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Eu Drops Demand to Try Ballot Case

Times Staff Writer

California Secretary of State March Fong Eu dropped her demand Monday that members of the pro-oil-drilling campaign be prosecuted for soliciting absentee ballot applications from Los Angeles voters.

Writing to Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn for the second time in four days, Eu said, “I do not believe that any public policy would be served by prosecuting anyone involved with the preparation and distribution of this form.”

Last week, Eu’s office told Hahn that Proposition P campaign officials violated the law when they designated a campaign office in Hollywood as the return address on an absentee ballot application form sent to more than 97,000 homes. State election laws require absentee ballot applications to be mailed directly to the county registrar-recorder’s office.

Violators of the law are subject to fines up to $250.

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Latest Letter

Mike Qualls, a Hahn spokesman, said that after Eu’s earlier letter, the city attorney’s office launched an investigation and “will pursue that to its conclusion and then make our independent decision.” He added that Eu’s latest letter would not halt the probe.

Qualls added that Hahn’s office will also consider a number of demands made jointly Monday by Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude that included, among other things, the immediate seizure of materials associated with the Proposition P campaign. Proposition P would affirm Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s approval to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades. Yaroslavsky called for a $250 fine for each faulty application that was mailed to voters.

Yaroslavsky and Braude are co-sponsoring Proposition O, a rival measure that would erase the 1985 ordinances authorizing the coastal drilling project.

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The Proposition P campaign sent the applications suggesting that voters could avoid long lines on Election Day by voting by absentee ballot. The return address for the absentee ballot application was a Proposition P office on Gower Street.

Attorney Wes Van Winkle, speaking on behalf of Proposition P, contended that the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder’s office verbally approved the distribution of the campaign’s absentee form after suggesting a number of changes. Campaign officials said they wanted the forms funneled through the Proposition P office to find out who might support the Occidental-backed drilling measure.

Phone Discussions

A spokeswoman for the registrar-recorder’s office said that although telephone discussions were held between the pro-drilling campaign and election officials, “the (Proposition P officials) indicated they were in a hurry to go to press and that it would not be possible to see the final copy.”

“We did not see the final draft and did not give approval on it,” spokeswoman Marcia Ventura said.

Tony Miller, Eu’s chief deputy, said that because campaign officials and county election officials disagree on what happened, the secretary of state’s office was dropping its recommendation to prosecute. Miller said, however, that he would expect Hahn “to continue his investigation, gather his evidence and draw his own conclusions.”

Eu told Hahn she had “received assurances that the (Proposition P campaign) will not distribute any more of the defective forms and that all completed forms . . . will be transmitted promptly to the registrar-recorder for processing.”

Van Winkle said the pro-drilling campaign always intended to forward the applications and said any error was due to “faulty information.” County election officials said the Proposition P campaign has so far forwarded 15,400 of the absentee ballot applications to the registrar-recorder’s office.

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