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A Need for Vigilance on Voters

An investigation into illegal voting in an Orange County congressional district last November has turned up evidence that the problem is more widespread than first thought.

Several weeks after the balloting, Times reporters found more than a dozen legal immigrants, not yet citizens, who admitted casting ballots in the election. Last week authorities said they believe more than 200 noncitizens were assisted in registering to vote by employees of a Latino rights group, Hermandad Mexicana Nacional. Perhaps as many as 100 others who were in the country illegally may have voted, according to court records and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials. Investigators for the Orange County district attorney said Hermandad students acknowledged having registered to vote on cards supplied by the rights group, which conducted citizenship classes. According to law, even if the students passed the citizenship exam, they were not eligible to register until they were sworn in as citizens.

Hermandad’s top official has said that some students in the citizenship classes may have registered and voted improperly, but argued that the problem stemmed from misunderstandings and the zeal of prospective citizens to vote.

Voting is basic to democracy. We should urge immigrants to become citizens and not raise obstacles to their doing so. Nevertheless, while it may be impossible to guarantee that each ballot in every election is authentic without using overly harsh measures, there remains a need to guard against voter fraud, be it by those born here or abroad. The newly alleged number of improper votes suggests that those conducting citizenship classes need to assume more responsibility to guard against improprieties.

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The improper votes found so far do not approach the 984-vote victory margin of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) over longtime incumbent Robert K. Dornan, who has asked the House of Representatives to void the election on grounds of voter fraud.

The separate inquiries by the California secretary of state and the Orange County district attorney should determine the scope of the problem. But this process presents no excuse for immigrant bashing.


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