The phone calls to Donald Tanney’s office began shortly after polls opened on that election day nearly three decades ago.
Tanney, then Orange County’s registrar of voters, was told that when residents — mostly Latino — arrived at 20 Santa Ana polling locations on Nov. 8, 1988, they were greeted by uniformed guards holding signs with a message in Spanish and English: “Non-Citizens Can’t Vote.”
The guards, dressed in navy blue attire, had been hired by the campaign of Curt Pringle, a Republican state Assembly candidate from Garden Grove, and the Orange County Republican Party. Their mission? Monitor the polling places to ensure no fraudulent ballots were cast, insisted Pringle and officials from the county GOP.
“It was bad,” Tanney recalled. “People were really upset.”
The incident became a blemish for California Republicans, producing allegations of voter intimidation and racism. A lawsuit was filed and a settlement reached.
“I remember thinking, ‘Really?’ This is something you could have easily imagined in other parts of the country,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A., who back then was teaching political science in Orange County. “This was a clear attempt to intimidate Latinos.”
Now, nearly three decades later, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump calls for his supporters to volunteer as election observers, concerns of voter intimidation have come to the forefront. At a rally in Pennsylvania last week, Trump used strong racial overtones to allege to his mostly white audience that “certain areas” of the state — such as Philadelphia, where almost half the residents are black — will commit voter fraud to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.