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Brooks’ Challenge of Harman Victory Is Viewed as Unlikely to Change Result

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even though Republicans have a majority in Congress, political analysts doubt that GOP candidate Susan Brooks will get very far in her challenge of Rep. Jane Harman’s narrow reelection victory last year.

Brooks recently filed a protest in the U.S. House of Representatives, saying that a citizens group has uncovered cases of voter irregularities that warrant a special election in the 36th Congressional District, which stretches from Venice to San Pedro. The House Administration Committee--chaired by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield), who campaigned for Brooks--will consider the complaint in February.

But would the GOP really try to alter the results of the race?

“You have got to look at the big picture,” said Democratic consultant Joe Cerrell. “You play games like that and it’s counterproductive. There’s a strong reaction to it. You make it a national issue, and it looks like outright thievery.”

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Political consultant Allan Hoffenblum said that Republicans want to avoid turmoil like that after the 1984 election, when Republican congressional candidate Richard D. McIntyre of Indiana won a narrow victory. The election was overturned by a task force controlled by Democrats, and Frank McCloskey was seated.

“The Republicans have vowed they would never do something similar to that,” said Hoffenblum, who worked for Brooks’ opponent in the primary, Ron Florance. “They are not in the mood to repeat that.”

But the House of Representatives has taken up challenges in other races this year, although no results have been reversed.

Brooks held a 93-vote lead the day after the election, but Harman eventually won after absentee ballots put her 812 votes ahead. The results of the race were certified by the California secretary of state, and Harman was seated when the House convened earlier this month.

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“I don’t think the Republicans want to steal the election,” said Harman (D-Rolling Hills).

Her spokesman, Roy Behr, was more biting. Brooks, he said, “is beyond being a sore loser.”

But Brooks said she cannot ignore the results of an investigation by the Committee on Election Integrity, a citizens group that includes former Brooks campaign workers. The group zeroed in on 22 precincts in Venice and one in San Pedro. Nearly 1,000 instances of “illegal and/or suspicious” votes were found in Venice, which Harman won handily, the group said.

In some instances, the group said, voters signed poll rosters listing their residences as abandoned houses, vacant lots and a bed-and-breakfast inn. In other cases, a non-citizen and a “dead person” were allowed to vote.

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“I am not alleging widespread voter fraud,” Brooks said, “but not ruling it out either.”

The vote-fraud group is calling on the House Administration Committee to investigate their claims. The House committee, which will meet Feb. 8, can take a variety of actions, including passing a resolution to validate the election, ordering the seat vacated or calling a new election, said Bill Pierce, a spokesman for the chairman, Thomas. The full House would then vote on the resolution.

“Under the Contested Elections Act, if a defeated candidate files a contest, you are compelled to look at it,” Thomas said.

But Hoffenblum and Cerrell predicted that without evidence such as affidavits from voters or videotapes of people illegally casting ballots, lawmakers will be reluctant to take the challenge very far.

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The bulk of the vote-fraud group’s claims could simply be people who moved from the precinct and forgot to re-register, they said.

“It’s technically illegal,” Hoffenblum said. “Many people do it and are not aware it’s illegal. (Brooks) has to prove that people did it with fraudulent intent.”

Times staff writer James Bornemeier contributed to this story.


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