Noncitizen voting reported in Orange County Account lends credibility to Dornan vote challenge

December 28, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

LOS ANGELES -- After a humiliating loss of his congressional seat to a political novice, nine-term Rep. Robert K. Dornan was dismissed by many as a sore loser for his seemingly outlandish allegations of voter fraud.

But one day after the Orange County Republican filed an official challenge of the results with the House of Representatives, a published report yesterday lent some credibility to Dornan's theory that noncitizens voted for his opponent, Democrat Loretta Sanchez, on Nov. 5.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 19 Orange County residents admitted to the newspaper that they registered and cast ballots even though they had not yet become naturalized citizens. Under California law, voting by a noncitizen is a felony, an offense punishable by deportation.

Dornan, 63, who lost by 979 votes, claims in his complaint to the House that hundreds of noncitizens and felons cast ballots, costing him the election. He wants the House either to hold a new election or overturn the results, declaring him the winner.

Soon after the election, Dornan, nicknamed "B-1 Bob" for his unwavering support for the Pentagon's costly bomber project, made what appeared to be extreme accusations: that an organized effort by the Democratic Party and a Latino civil rights group to register voters could have led to "the first case in history where a congressional election was decided by non-citizens."

But in the Los Angeles Times report, 18 of the 19 noncitizens who allegedly voted in the November election were affiliated with an Orange County group, Hermandad Mexicana Nacional. The 18 people took citizenship classes at the organization, where they were allegedly given voter registration forms and prompted to vote.

LTC Outside his far-right circle, Dornan -- known for his colorful

tirades on the House floor about everything from immigrants to homosexuals -- elicited little sympathy in defeat.

Now, though, in a state unaccustomed to widespread voter fraud, the allegations that noncitizens voted have sparked outrage even from those who had dismissed Dornan.

Until reading the report, "I didn't see any merit to Dornan's charges," said Robert M. Stern, co-director of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.

"But if 19 people admitted that they voted illegally, there are probably many more others," he added. "The question is: Is this isolated or sufficient enough a number to overturn the election?"

According to the Times report, Hermandad registered 916 people to vote, and 585 of them cast ballots.

The 18 people said that officials at the organization urged them ++ to register and vote, even though they had not been sworn in as U.S. citizens. Some said they registered shortly after they passed English proficiency and civics exams, and did not know they were doing anything questionable.

The report, however, does not indicate that the noncitizens were urged to vote for Sanchez, a financial analyst and former Republican.

Neither Dornan nor Sanchez was available for comment yesterday.

Pub Date: 12/28/96

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