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Dozens of New O.C. Democrats Were Signed Up as Republicans

Times Staff Writer

Orange County election officials said Wednesday they were preparing to turn over 100 instances of improper voter registration for possible criminal prosecution.

Included are three dozen complaints of Democrats being signed up as Republicans in one of the county’s most competitive legislative districts.

Most of the examples being handed over to the district attorney’s office emerged from a routine review by county officials, but Democrats independently found others.

The Democratic Voter Education and Registration Fund found numerous problems with registrations in central Orange County’s 34th state Senate District, spokesman Paul Hefner said, including invalid phone numbers and addresses on hundreds of forms.

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“You don’t have to go to Washington to find the latest Republican scandal; they’re footing the bill for registration fraud right here in California,” Hefner said from Sacramento.

At issue is a GOP registration effort that began two years ago, said county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh. The Republican Party has paid bounties of up to $10 for each new voter, hoping to make the central county friendlier turf for GOP candidates.

Baugh said the first complaints, from six people, came in February after welcome letters were sent to the new voters. Three registration workers have since been fired for being too aggressive or for submitting faulty paperwork, he said.

“We have no interest in bullying people into becoming Republicans because that’s lost bounty money, lost mailing costs, and they’re not going to vote Republican,” Baugh said.

In complaints submitted to the registrar’s office, several Democrats said they were either pressured into registering as Republicans or had their party switched without their knowledge.

“I told the gentleman that I was a Democrat, but he wanted to sign me up as a Republican so he can get credit for it,” Xochi Avila of Anaheim wrote in a complaint. “I was not happy about it, but I went along with it.”

Another voter, Araceli Mendez of Buena Park, said she was asked to sign a petition and the worker “changed my party to Republican. I informed him that it was Democrat, and he said it wouldn’t change my party. I was lied to.”

Neal Kelley, acting registrar of voters, said each voter was sent a notification card from the county to confirm that the registration information was correct. Filing false voter affidavits is a felony punishable by fines and up to three years in prison.

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“When bounties are involved, this kind of thing happens,” he said. “The parties have been very responsive to problems, and we’re able to catch who is doing it.”

The 34th Senate District currently is represented by Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), who must leave because of term limits and is running for state controller. The district includes Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Stanton and Westminster.

A lively Democratic primary contest is expected between Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) and Orange County Supervisor Lou Correa of Santa Ana. Republicans so far in the race are Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher (R-Brea) and Lupe Moreno, an anti-illegal-immigration activist from Santa Ana.

The filing deadline for candidates is March 10.

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