Latinos Seek Response to Voting Issues

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County's Latino community leaders, frustrated by still-unresolved complaints from Spanish-speaking voters on election day in November, have written a letter to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad asking why the registrar of voters hasn't responded to their concerns and recommendations.

"To this day, not the registrar or the board has responded to us," said Amin David, a spokesman for Los Amigos of Orange County. "We went to the board and made a presentation, and we were very proud of the work we did."

David and other community leaders are frustrated with the county's inaction on the inch-thick report released in December that documented a telephone survey of 1,275 predominantly Spanish-speaking Latinos. Of that number, 260 had reported some type of voting "incident," they said.

"Some of the Santa Ana polling-place situations were not unlike those in Florida condemned by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission," the letter stated.

Registrar Rosalyn Lever has not responded to the report but insists on calling meetings to gain community input on elections, David said. He and other Latino leaders are urging the board to ask Lever to respond to their concerns.

At the supervisors' post-election hearings, officials from both political parties expressed dismay that some voters might not have voted or at least were confused about how to vote because of the delays in mailing about 40,000 sample ballots to Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking voters.

Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jeanne Costales said party workers fielded "a ton" of calls from first-time voters in the Vietnamese community.

But in a more serious charge, Latino leaders said they investigated allegations that voters were harassed, intimidated and--in some cases--turned away from a Santa Ana voting booth by poll workers.

Lever, whose office is the subject of a sweeping county assessment, was not available for comment Wednesday. She has previously denied allegations that voters were turned away from the polls.

One of the registrar office's problems, highlighted in a subsequent county executive officer's report, was that it "may have placed too much emphasis" on curbing costs to the detriment of its mission and goals.

Lever has struggled to keep costs down despite a 40% staff reduction that was due in part to the 1994 county bankruptcy.

The assessment of the department, however, seems to have focused on whether the county needs a new, paperless electronic voting system and not on complaints aired by Latino community leaders, David said.

These leaders were insulted, he said, by a recent invitation from Lever to attend meetings in her office so she could explain the elections process and hear any specific concerns.

"They think that we're just here waiting for the bureaucracy," David said. "They think they can just snap their fingers and we will be there. We already gave them our report."

Coad said she has referred the letter to the county executive officer.

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