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Governor Signs Ban on Armed Guards at Polls

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Times Staff Writer

Capping a direct legislative response to a controversial Orange County election, Gov. George Deukmejian on Friday signed into law a bill that prohibits armed or uniformed security guards at election booths.

The new law, which received bipartisan support in the Legislature, was written as a reaction to charges that the Orange County Republican Party and Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) intimidated Latino voters by hiring uniformed security guards on Election Day last fall to monitor 20 Santa Ana precincts.

Pringle won the Nov. 8 election over his Democratic opponent by an 867-vote margin. He and the county Republican party were subsequently sued by the Hispanic Political Council, which charged that the security guard poll watchers were posted to scare away Latino--and potentially Democratic--voters.

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Sponsored by Marks

The new law makes it a felony, punishable by a $10,000 fine, for anyone to post armed guards near election booths. The measure was sponsored by state Sen. Milton Marks (D-San Francisco), who encountered only a smattering of resistance to the bill as it made its way through the legislative process.

At one point, some Republicans accused the San Francisco Democrat of making the Pringle election a partisan issue.

But Marks quickly put down that talk by releasing a copy of an internal Republican National Committee memorandum that 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.”

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 rookie term in Sacramento has been dogged by questions over the uniformed guards, has declared in court papers that the federal lawsuit against him had drained his personal finances and forced him to spend $170,000.

The papers were part of a lawsuit Pringle filed Thursday to bar the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s political watchdog agency, from enforcing its Aug. 15 ruling that held donations to the assemblyman’s legal defense fund to be the same as political contributions. Thus, Pringle could solicit no more than $1,000 per individual, the commission ruled.

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Pringle and Assembly Republican leader Ross Johnson (R-La Habra) have protested the ruling, saying it was unreasonably restrictive and would force Pringle to choose between mounting a legal defense or seeking reelection.

Pringle’s lawsuit says that the political practices commission has begun enforcement action against him for violating the Aug. 15 order by using $50,000 out of a campaign fund to pay his attorney. The campaign fund was established to fight a recall effort against him, begun after the poll-guard controversy but subsequently abandoned.

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