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Bill to Clear Up Threat to Voter Sign-Ups Backed

Times Staff Writer

The Senate on Thursday approved legislation drafted to correct problems that could cause election officials to disqualify up to a third of California’s newly registered voters.

The bill, by Assemblyman Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro), went to the Assembly on a 28-7 vote, one more than the two-thirds majority required in the 40-member Senate.

Among other things, the legislation is designed to allow voters who neglected to give a middle initial on registration forms to remain on the voting rolls.

The legislation was rejected two weeks ago, primarily because of opposition from Republicans.

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Aggressive Lobbying

But aggressive lobbying by supporters, including county election officials from throughout the state, drew enough GOP support Thursday to pass the bill. It would take effect immediately upon the signature of Gov. George Deukmejian.

Klehs said he hopes that the bill can be enacted in time to qualify questionable voter registration affidavits in time for the June 3 primary election.

The problem stems from legal opinions by state lawyers who have held that election officials have been accepting incomplete voter registration forms in violation of the state Elections Code.

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County registrars, for example, have accepted registration forms even if voters failed to include their middle names or initials or failed to include their party affiliation, both of which are required by law.

They were operating under administrative regulations issued by Secretary of State March Fong Eu which said, in effect, that if the voters did not include a middle name or initial it could be presumed that they did not have one.

But, citing legal opinions by the attorney general and legislative counsel in 1984, Eu issued statewide directives to voting officials Feb. 20 telling them to begin adhering to the letter of the law.

Under the revised system, voters either had to correct incomplete registration forms or be disqualified from voting. County officials said as many as a third of the voters who registered after Feb. 20 could be disqualified.

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The bill, introduced more than a year ago at the request of the secretary of state, specifies that certain presumptions in fact can be made, including presumptions that if a person does not include a middle name or party affiliation, he or she does not have one.

Originally, much of the opposition to the bill stemmed from a provision that said that if a person did not declare his or her citizenship, it would be presumed that they were U.S. citizens. Opponents said this could lead to widespread voting by illegal aliens.

Opposed by GOP

Even though the measure was amended to make it more palatable to the GOP, some Republicans remained opposed. All seven “no” votes were cast by Republicans.

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Senate Republican Leader James W. Nielsen of Woodland said he thought that voters should be required to fill out complete registration forms. “What do we have to do to get someone to vote? Lead them by the hand? You ought to be able to fill out a form fully and understandably,” he said.

But Klehs told reporters, “We don’t want to disqualify people simply because in the haste of registering to vote they forgot to put down their middle name or initial.”


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