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1 in 5 Names Culled From O.C. Voter List

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A quarter of a million voters--about one in every five registered here--were dropped from Orange County’s voter rolls between 1996 and this month’s primary, according to newly released data from the registrar of voters.

The purged voters were more likely to be Republicans and those with surnames that are not Latino or Vietnamese, according to a computer analysis done for The Times Orange County by Dick Lewis of Newport Beach.

About 110,000 voters who had not voted in any federal election in the 1990s were transferred to an “inactive” file from which they could be resurrected. But the voter registrations of the remainder were canceled outright, including those of about 8,000 who had registered more than once. Other cancellations were triggered by voters who moved, reregistered, changed their names or died.

The June primary was the first time in decades that registrars across California were able to cull the deadwood from voter files.

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A series of bills pushed by Secretary of State Bill Jones and passed by the Legislature gave registrars the authority as of Jan. 1 to identify and contact those who hadn’t voted in four prior federal elections, and to cancel the registrations of voters who declined to serve on juries, saying they weren’t U.S. citizens.

Orange County also “did a lot of tweaking” on its own, Registrar of Voters Rosalyn Lever said. The actions were triggered in part because of increased scrutiny of the county’s voter file because of former Rep. Robert K. Dornan’s challenge of his loss to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove).

Dornan, a Republican, alleged that he lost his seat to Sanchez because of a conspiracy among local Latino activists to encourage illegal voting in the central county district by noncitizens. Lever ultimately canceled the registrations of 561 people who had registered for the 1996 election before becoming citizens.

An Orange County grand jury last year declined to issue indictments in the voter-fraud probe, and a House committee ruled there was an insufficient number of illegal votes to overturn the election.

Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jeanne Costales said the number of Republicans and voters who do not have Latino or Vietnamese surnames among the deadwood showed that years of allegations by GOP officials of widespread illegal voting simply weren’t true.

“People move, they change their registrations, no matter what their ethnicity or [party],” Costales said. “You’re always going to have that, particularly in precincts where you have a lot of renters. This is what we’ve been saying all along. It’s not like people are racing across the border to vote here.”

But merely because voter rolls are cleaner doesn’t mean they are clean, said California Republican Party Chairman Michael Schroeder, an attorney who represented Dornan in his election challenge. Election officials still are unable to check the citizenship status of most voters, he said, and did so in the Dornan race only because of the multiple investigations.

“It’s a good thing whenever you can clean up the rolls because the cleaner the rolls are, the harder it is to commit voter fraud,” Schroeder said. “It’s less likely that someone can vote in the place of someone who doesn’t really exist. But we still need to institute a few common-sense reforms, like requiring a Social Security number or driver’s license number when you register, and showing a photo ID when you vote.”

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Overall, the voter file shrank 21% from 1996 but grew again by about 13% in new registrations for the June primary, Lewis said. Among the new registrants, the fastest-growing group was voters who indicated that they were either independent or affiliated with minor parties. There were about 1.18 million registered voters for the June primary, compared with about 1.27 million voters for the 1996 election.

Those figures track statewide trends. Moving nonvoters to inactive files resulted in a drop of about 534,000 voters statewide--or about 9.2%. The difference boosted turnout figures by about 7% statewide, Jones’ office said.

Jones estimated that counties saved between $1.9 million and $3.1 million by removing the inactive voters, because they had fewer sample ballots and other election materials to print and mail. In Orange County, the estimated savings was between $330,000 and $550,000.

Lever said she sent letters to 129,323 registrants who hadn’t voted in any federal election in the 1990s, notifying them they’d be dropped from the active rolls unless they contested the action. About 20,000 wanted to remain registered, she said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Electorate Changes

A series of voter-registration reforms effective Jan. 1 has resulted in more than 50,000 fewer Republicans on county rolls for 1998 elections. Democrats were not hurt as badly:

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Removed Added Difference Democrats 88,949 49,171 -39,778 Republicans 116,832 63,456 -53,376

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Source: Orange County voter files; Researched by DICK LEWIS / For The Times

Thinning Voter Ranks

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Reforms have left county rolls with nearly 100,000 fewer voters than in 1996.

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Removed Added for 1998 for 1998 Difference TOTAL 253,683 158,345 -95,338 Latino surnames 28,638 20,439 -8,199 Vietnamese surnames 12,112 10,015 -2,097 All other surnames 212,933 127,891 -85,042 Male* 93,248 61,783 -31,465 Female* 99,570 75,809 -23,761

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* Does not include voters who did not indicate their gender

Source: Orange County voter files; Researched by DICK LEWIS / For The Times


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