An analysis of court documents shows that more than 600 legal immigrants improperly registered to vote on registration cards supplied by Hermandad Mexicana Nacional and 407 of them cast ballots--a far larger number than was previously known.
In addition, another 105 voters who registered with Hermandad appear to be illegal immigrants, according to the documents and interviews with Immigration and Naturalization Service officials.
This is the first evidence to surface that points to voting by people who were in the United States illegally.
The analysis sheds further light on the voter registration activities of the nonprofit Latino rights group, which is the focus of investigations by the offices of the Orange County district attorney and California secretary of state into voter fraud.
The Times has previously reported that 227 legal residents who are still not citizens registered to vote, which could be prosecuted as a felony. Of that number, 85 voted.
The latest analysis shows that an additional 390--who have since become citizens--registered improperly, in some cases months before attending a swearing-in ceremony. Others registered two or three weeks before becoming citizens. Of that number, 322 voted.
An improper registration would void any subsequent votes cast, according to an opinion from Secretary of State Bill Jones.
“It definitely is illegal to register to vote if you are not a citizen,” said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for Jones. “You must sign under penalty of perjury that you are a U.S. citizen, and mark another box that says you are a U.S. citizen. It is blatantly against the law, and a lot of these things we are looking into as part of the investigation.”
Assistant Dist. Atty. Wallace J. Wade said the investigation has so far focused on those voters who are not yet citizens, but he said he would not rule out expanding the investigation to include the 322 who became citizens after registering.
The information about illegal registration and voting was gleaned from an affidavit and voter lists filed in court by the district attorney’s office to support a search warrant that was served on Hermandad’s offices last month. At least 15 boxes of documents and several computers were taken from the group’s offices, and investigators continue to pore over the information.
Attached to the affidavit is a list of 1,160 people who were registered to vote last summer and fall by Hermandad, a nonprofit organization that also provides citizenship classes, job training and paralegal services for thousands of members. According to the affidavit, all of the people on the list either voted or asked for an absentee ballot but failed to return it.
As part of the investigation by the district attorney and secretary of state, INS officials went through the list and noted the status of each person on it, including legal residents, naturalized citizens and citizenship applicants.
The INS noted that it found no records for many of those named on the list, including 166 people who wrote on the voter registration form that they were born in a foreign country.
According to Rosemary Melville, deputy district director for the INS western region, the most likely explanation for such a situation would be that the people were in the United States illegally.
Melville would not comment directly on any aspect of the investigation. However, in a telephone interview she said nearly any foreign-born person living in the United States legally should have had some contact with the INS. One exception would be someone born abroad whose parents were U.S. citizens.
Any contact with the INS, including the granting of legal residency, would create a record for that person, she said, “and we would be aware of it and could access that information.”
Of the 166 apparent illegal immigrants, 105 cast ballots in the November general election. The remaining 61 applied for absentee ballots but then did not return them.
Hermandad Executive Director Nativo V. Lopez has conceded that some of the students in the organization’s citizenship classes may have registered and voted improperly, but said the problem was due to misunderstandings and the eagerness of those intended citizens to vote.
Lopez could not be reached for comment late in the day Friday. However, Art Montez, the Santa Ana chapter president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the new information did not change his belief that Hermandad had been unfairly targeted by investigators.
“Right now, the facts may slant the picture one way, but you have to remember, a photographer can always make the photograph look as damaging as possible depending on the angle,” Montez said. “If you look hard enough, you’re always going to find errors.”
The allegation of voting by illegal immigrants was also raised at a press conference Friday morning by attorneys for Robert K. Dornan, the former Republican congressman who is contesting his 984-vote defeat by Democrat Loretta Sanchez in their November match-up for the 46th Congressional District seat.
Dornan, of Garden Grove, has asked the House of Representatives to void the election due to voter fraud, and his request is set to be heard by the House Oversight Committee the week of Feb. 24.
Attorney Michael Schroeder, who is also vice chairman of the state Republican Party, presented a list of irregularities that he said adds up to 1,739 illegally-cast ballots. Schroeder said that number would be sufficient to void the election, which was decided by 984 votes. “And this is just the beginning,” he said.
A list of the irregularities include ballots cast by about 650 people who are not citizens now or were not citizens when they registered to vote. Schroeder also lists 128 people whose absentee ballots were turned in by people who were not blood relatives.
Schroeder’s list also mentions a 924-vote discrepancy between the number of votes officially recorded in the 46th Congressional District race, and the number of voters appearing on a computer tape extracted from the Orange County registrar of voters’ computers. Schroeder said that the registrar had been unable to adequately account for the discrepancy.
However, in a three-page letter to Dornan’s attorneys, Registrar Rosalyn Lever said approximately half of the difference--460 to be exact--was due to errors by clerks entering the numbers into computers.
Schroeder accused Lever of participating in a cover-up, and said she was aware more than a month ago that there had been massive voting by noncitizens. Lever could not be reached for comment, but Wade of the district attorney’s office said the registrar had provided the information that prompted the investigation. As to a cover-up, he said, “I don’t know what they’re basing that on.”
Also contributing to this report was Times staff writer Kimberly Sanchez.