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Bill to Ban Guards at Polls Goes to Governor

Times Staff Writer

The state Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill, inspired by a controversial Orange County election, that would make it a felony to post uniformed security guards within 100 feet of polling places.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Milton Marks (D-San Francisco), will now be sent to Gov. George Deukmejian to be signed into law.

Marks said Thursday that he drafted the bill specifically in response to the controversy that occurred in November when the Orange County Republican Party hired uniformed security guards that were stationed at 20 largely Latino precincts during a close Assembly race in which newcomer Curt Pringle edged out his Democratic opponent by 867 votes.

The Republican Party and Pringle subsequently were sued in federal court by a number of Latino voters who claimed that the guards were posted as a way to cut the strength of the Democratic vote in Santa Ana.

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“I still think it was disgraceful that the situation would occur, and I’m trying my best to prevent it from occurring again,” Marks said.

“There were some people who felt I was making a partisan issue of it, but I really wasn’t,” said Marks, noting that all of the Republicans in the Assembly backed the bill. “I think it is something that should not be permitted at all, and I’m glad that the bill has passed.”

In its original version, the measure made posting the uniformed guards near election booths a felony punishable by a $5,000 fine. But an Assembly committee amended the bill to raise the fine to $10,000, a change that received the Senate’s unanimous concurrence on Thursday.

During the bill’s journey through the Legislature, Marks encountered only token resistance from Republicans, two of whom voted against the measure the first time it was up before the full Senate. But even that opposition disappeared Thursday with the Senate’s final 35-0 vote.

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Part of the reason that partisan grumbling against the bill ceased was that Marks in May released a copy of an internal memorandum from the Republican National Committee that specifically denounced “any methods or tactics which in any way could be viewed as chilling an individual’s intent to exercise his or her right to vote.”

Workers Warned

The memo, sent out during a 1988 poll-watching program, said the national committee wanted its workers to refrain from wearing “public or private law enforcement or security guard uniforms, using armbands or carrying or displaying guns or badges.”

Pringle, whose freshman term in Sacramento has been dogged by the poll guard controversy, has maintained that he had no idea that poll watchers hired at the request of his campaign manager for those Santa Ana precincts were wearing security guard uniforms. He said that as soon as he heard about it, he asked that the paid workers be removed from their posts.

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Pringle, interviewed Thursday evening at a reception in Orange County for Vice President Dan Quayle, said he was tired of hearing about the poll guard issue, comparing its longevity to the pregnancy of his wife, whose baby is due at any moment.

“This thing has evolved over nine months, just like my baby,” Pringle said.

While reiterating that he was not the one who hired the guards, he pointed out that before the election, his campaign received many calls from people expressing fears that non-citizens might try to vote in the election.

Times staff writer Claudia Luther contributed to this story.

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