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County Registrar Poised to Purge 743 From Voter Rolls

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TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

County officials are preparing to remove from the voter rolls 743 people who registered in Orange County before becoming citizens, Registrar of Voters Rosalyn Lever announced Thursday.

If the process survives expected legal challenges from voting rights advocates, it would create for the first time in California a procedure for removing noncitizens from voter rolls.

“These procedures are unprecedented,” said Secretary of State Bill Jones, whose office conducted a yearlong investigation into allegations of voting by noncitizens in the county. “There is no existing process for removing identified noncitizens from the voter rolls.”

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Voting rights groups suggested they would challenge the process as violating state law and the National Voting Rights Act of 1993, which sets stringent limitations on purging voters.

The registrations would be canceled by May 3, a month before the June primary, using the new procedure created by Jones’ office and implemented by the registrar. The information about the immigration status of the registrants was provided to the registrar by Jones’ office, which obtained it from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The county will remove the voters from the rolls in a two-step process that begins with a letter of notification, which will be mailed April 3. Those sent letters will have 30 days to provide information, and possibly documentation, showing they belong on the voter rolls. Those declining to answer or providing inadequate information will have their registrations canceled, according to the letters.

All the questionable voters were identified during a state and local investigation into allegations that Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a Latino rights organization, fraudulently registered noncitizens before the 1996 election. A grand jury looking into the case did not return any indictments.

Of the alleged improperly registered voters, 372 are identified as having become citizens. The other 371 are identified as not being citizens. Orange County has 1.2 million voters.

Registrar officials said they were acting based on information supplied by Jones in a March 23 letter. “The secretary of state has said conclusively” that these people were not citizens at registration, and “it would be inappropriate for me not to rely on that assertion,” Deputy Registrar Don Taylor said.

But voting rights advocates are not convinced of the accuracy of the information, of the reliability of INS databases for showing citizenship status, or of the legal basis for purging the voters.

Fred Woocher, an expert in election law who works with the Democratic Party, objected to using mail service to notify and get answers from the people involved.

Woocher also said Jones’ process does not follow state law, which sets a specific procedure for challenging a voter’s registration.

“This is a totally unauthorized procedure, which doesn’t protect the rights of the registrants,” he said.

Tony Chavez, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Jones’ office had failed to show voting rights advocates that the procedure complies with state and federal law. Chavez and others have been discussing the procedures for purging noncitizens from voter rolls with state and county officials for more than a month.

There are only four grounds for purging a voter under federal law, he said: death, a criminal conviction, at the request of the registrant or for a change of residence, he said.

But Jones said that the “due-process procedure” for removing the noncitizens is based on a legal analysis done for his office that finds a noncitizen registration document is “a nullity.”

“If someone is not a citizen when they registered to vote, then they are not a valid elector and so, they can be removed” outside of the procedures in the National Voting Rights Act or specific state statute, he said.

Chavez predicted the issue would end up in court.

“I dispute grounds for claiming it as a nullity,” he said. “I have yet to see them point to anything that permits that.”

In determining that the 743 were not citizens when they voted, Jones relied on a match of “first name, last name, date of birth and place of birth,” he said in the letter to registrar Lever. The information about the citizenship status of “each individual was reviewed no less than four separate times using INS hard copy files and records,” the letter said.


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