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Proof Of Illegal Voters Falls Short, Keeping Sanchez In House

By Jackie Koszczuk, CQ Staff Writer

The House is set to dismiss former GOP Rep. Robert K. Dornan's challenge to election results that forced him to give up his California seat to Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, ending an acrimonious 13-month battle that many Republican leaders believe has hurt the party with Hispanic voters nationwide.

Sanchez took the seat from six-term incumbent Dornan in November 1996 by just 984 votes. Dornan claimed the election was stolen through rampant illegal voting by non-citizens.

Acting on a recommendation from a contested-election task force, the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 4 voted 8 to 1 to drop the investigation of Dornan's claims. The full House is likely to accept that verdict when the resolution is introduced sometime the week of Feb. 9.

Task force Chairman Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., said investigators had found concrete evidence of 748 illegal votes by non-citizens, not enough to throw Sanchez's victory into doubt. He and other Republicans said the results nonetheless show that Dornan's challenge was not frivolous and that the GOP was not unfairly targeting Hispanic voters.

"The fact that we ended up with 748 illegal votes makes it clear his allegations had merit," Ehlers said.

Democrats have characterized the probe as a witch hunt, charging that Republicans sought to unfairly single out and intimidate Hispanic voters. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the lone Democrat on the task force, said of the panel's recommendation, "It's never too late to do the right thing."

Sanchez celebrated surrounded by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and cheering Democratic lawmakers and staff at a rally held just after the task force's decision. "I feel great," Sanchez said. "When you stand up and you fight for something and you know that you're right, justice can prevail."

Gephardt said: "Loretta won this election fair and square. There's never been a doubt in my mind."

Not Going Quietly

Dornan, who was present with his wife and daughter for the committee's decision, was as outspoken as ever. He asserted that he won the election, but that the panel was unable to prove it because its investigators were stonewalled by Sanchez, by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and by Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a group that helped register Latinos in California but which was found by committee investigators to have registered large numbers of non-citizens.

"I won on election night," Dornan said. "In her heart of hearts, Loretta Sanchez knows that."

Dornan vowed he would stay active in politics, and he hinted that he might run for the Senate against California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose term expires this year. He also intimated that either he or his son, Mark Dornan, would challenge Sanchez again this year.

"There will be a Dornan running for the 46th District," he said, but he asserted that he and his family had not decided which one of them it would be.

Dornan's aggressive personal style and the intensity with which he argued that he had been wronged eventually hurt his case. After he got into a heated argument about the matter with Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., on the House floor in September, the House voted to strip him of his former member's floor privileges.

In explaining how the task force reached its conclusion, Ehlers said the panel began with a pool of 7,841 suspicious votes, culled from a comparison of California voting records with INS records. That number was whittled down as investigators weeded out individuals who either did not vote or who proved to be qualified to vote after all.

Eventually, Ehlers said, 624 illegal, non-citizen voters were identified, and they were added to the 124 voters that California officials had disqualified because of improperly delivered absentee ballots.

The continuing investigation had become politically treacherous for Republicans. Democrats kept up the pressure by introducing multiple resolutions on the House floor calling for an end to the probe. And they seized on the issue to court Hispanic voters, who are being avidly wooed by both parties out of deference to their growing electoral strength.

© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
In CQ News This Week

Saturday February 7, 1998

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Proof Of Illegal Voters Falls Short, Keeping Sanchez In House
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