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Bates’ Absentee Ballot Inquiry May Broaden

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Accusing San Diego election officials of “covering up” their inability to properly verify absentee ballots, lawyer Mike Aguirre said Wednesday that he might ask a congressional committee to challenge Republican Randall (Duke) Cunningham’s victory over Rep. Jim Bates.

In the latest twist in his long-shot legal battle to help Bates overturn his narrow November loss to Cunningham, Aguirre, citing what he characterized as “sloppy or non-existent checking” of absentee ballots, threatened for the first time to carry his fight for the San Diego County Democrat beyond the courtroom to the House Administration Committee.

“We’re going to take every step possible to make sure there wasn’t fraud in this election,” Aguirre said. Similarly, Bates said that asking the congressional panel, which has jurisdiction over contested elections, to investigate is “something we probably ought to do as a backstop” to a court hearing on the matter scheduled for later this month.

Both Cunningham’s attorney, Steve Kane, and San Diego Registrar of Voters Conny McCormack, however, defended the handling of the absentee ballots as proper, dismissing the accusations of improprieties as grandstanding and political sour grapes.

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“I don’t really know what Mr. Aguirre is after other than getting his name in the paper, and Mr. Bates won’t accept that he lost,” Kane said. “There was nothing at all wrong with this election.”

In his Superior Court lawsuit, Aguirre charges that the registrar’s office violated state law by failing to compare signatures on absentee ballot applications with voters’ original registration records. McCormack, however, emphasizes that guidelines used by 37 California counties permit election officials to verify only the signature on the absentee ballot itself, not on the application.

Aguirre also has questioned the thoroughness of the signature verification on the 188,000 absentee ballots cast countywide in last month’s election. Contending that most of those names received a “cursory at best” examination from temporary workers, Aguirre has expressed doubt that many absentee ballots were checked at all for their authenticity.

Hoping to bolster his case, Aguirre, using a handwriting expert equipped with a stopwatch, conducted experiments at the registrar’s office Wednesday that he contends showed that the signatures could not be verified via computer nearly as quickly as election officials previously claimed.

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