Thursday, Nov 02, 2006
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State investigates allegations of voter intimidation in California

By Martin Wisckol and Dena Bunis

The Orange County Register


SANTA ANA, Calif. - Condemnation of an intimidating mailer from Congressional candidate Tan Nguyen's campaign swelled Thursday, as state investigators continued interviews in the county and the U.S. Justice Department joined the probe.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer told Nguyen's opponent, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, that details should become clearer in the next couple days and that his office "would be making arrests," Sanchez said.

Nguyen, a Republican, said Thursday that a campaign worker helped put out the letter without his knowledge and that she had been fired. He called the letter, which targeted immigrant voters, "flawed and ill-conceived."

But Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh didn't believe Nguyen's denial and continued to call for him to bow out of the race.

"I've learned that Mr. Nguyen was involved in expediting that mailer," Baugh said. "I've had conversations with the attorney general and folks involved with the mail house. He called the mail house himself and told them to expedite the mailing."

Nguyen, who said Thursday morning that he was scheduled to meet with investigators later in the day, did not return subsequent calls seeking response to Baugh. Lockyer's office did not return calls seeking specifics of Nguyen's relationship to the case.

The letter, written in Spanish and sent to about 14,000 foreign-born Hispanic voters, said that immigrants voting in an election are committing a crime that "could result in jail time, and you will be deported for voting without a right to do so."

Immigrants who become U.S. citizens have the same voting rights as native-born citizens.

"If it is determined that this letter was directed to prevent a certain population from voting, then potentially there could have been a criminal act and there could be criminal charges," said Cynthia Magnuson of the U.S. Justice Department.

The controversial letter also said a new federal computer system could verify the names of newly registered voters and that anti-immigration groups could access the information.

Magnuson said there is no such system and no plans for one.

The mailer carried the letterhead of the Huntington Beach-based California Coalition for Immigration Reform. CCIR founder Barbara Coe condemned the letter and said her group had no part in it.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the letter "a despicable act of political intimidation."

Sen. Barbara Boxer called it "outrageous and reprehensible." Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Westminster also condemned it.

Throughout the Vietnamese community, there was criticism of the campaign tactic. A coalition of Hispanic, Asian-American and Muslim groups will hold a joint press conference today to denounce the letter.

Nguyen said he would hold a press conference today to discuss whether he will remain in the race. If he pulls out, his name would remain on the ballot.

Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Barbaro praised Baugh for calling on Nguyen to bow out. Barbaro also called on Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley to write voters who received the letter and encourage them to vote. Kelley said Thursday he is not planning such a mailing.

Like Baugh, Barbaro doesn't believe Nguyen's denial of involvement with the controversy.

"All roads lead to Tan Nguyen," he said.

But Barbaro said that rather than hurt Democratic and Hispanic turnout, it could provide a boost. While Sanchez was already predicted to win easily, turnout will play a key role in the competitive match for state Senate between Democrat Lou Correa and Republican Lynn Daucher.

"The anger here is amazing," Barbaro said. "People are mobilizing. This is going to help elect Lou Correa."

Correa wasn't so sure.

"I'm getting phone calls from voters saying they're afraid to vote," he said.


© 2006, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).

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