October 20, 2006
The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Attorney General Gonzales:
We are deeply concerned by recent news reports describing the use of voter suppression techniques targeting Latino citizens in southern California in the mid-term elections. We enclose some of those accounts. Registered voters in Orange County, California, apparently are being warned in letters that they could be jailed or deported if they vote in the November election. Although in press reports Republican candidate Tan Nguyen acknowledges that an employee in his campaign was involved in sending out the controversial letter, he claims to have no personal knowledge of the letter. According to a Los Angeles Times article of October 19, 2006, however, Orange County Republican Chairman Scott Baugh states that "representatives of the Huntington Beach mail house that produced the letter told him that Nguyen was directly involved with the letter, calling and asking that it be sent out as soon as possible." The California Attorney General has launched an investigation into this matter. We ask that you send us and the Senate Judiciary Committee a written response detailing the immediate actions being taken by the Department to investigate this matter, prosecute those responsible, and notify naturalized citizens in Orange County of their right to vote.
Our specific concern is that a letter, written in Spanish and sent to an unknown number of Latinos in Orange County, was distributed with the clear purpose of keeping voters from the polls on the basis of their race or ethnicity. According to press reports, the letter states that "if . . . you are an emigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that can result in incarceration, and possible deportation . . . ." The letter also states that "the U.S. government is installing a new computerized system to verify names of all newly registered voters who participate in the elections in October and November. Organizations against emigration will be able to request information from this new computerized system."
During the recent reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, the 109th Congress acknowledged that our nation has a long and unfortunate history of imposing barriers to voting rights, particularly with regard to racial, ethnic, language, and other minorities. Although many of the most blatant vote suppression tactics of the Jim Crow era have ended, our Committee received an abundance of evidence during the Voting Rights Act hearings documenting that more subtle and sophisticated vote suppression tactics persist. By reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, the Congress reaffirmed our nation's commitment to eliminating all vestiges of voter intimidation, oppression, and suppression - whether overt or subtle.
This matter demonstrates the urgent need for vigorous enforcement of our nation's civil rights laws. As you know, we have previously expressed concerns regarding the current priorities of the Civil Rights Division and whether those priorities are aligned with recent trends away from vigorous civil rights enforcement. We remain concerned about a reported a sharp decline in the number of traditional civil rights cases filed by the Division under this Administration, particularly in the area of voting rights.
Because our nation is less than three weeks away from an important election, the Justice Department must conduct a thorough, complete, and speedy investigation into this matter. We request that you provide us with your report on or before October 27, 2006.
United States Senator
United States Senator