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SACRAMENTO -- Two weeks after news of her thin voting record nearly paralyzed her campaign for governor, Meg Whitman is now pushing back with new claims that she voted.

The pushback is part of a newly aggressive effort to repair the damage that came from being depicted as unengaged politically for the last 28 years. And it marks yet another attempt for the Whitman campaign, following apologies and explanations, to take control of a storyline that her campaign has been unable to squelch.

Still, some political observers say, the fallout will likely linger. It's still clear that Whitman missed most elections, and other questions still remain over her fresh claims that she voted.

Whitman's campaign this week said she voted in the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

And in an open letter sent Monday to the Sacramento Bee, which first reported on her voting history, the Whitman campaign demanded a retraction and questioned whether the paper had set out to "deliberately misrepresent Meg Whitman's voting record." The paper, in its Sept. 24 story, said it could find no record showing she'd registered until 2002, when she was 46.

"Meg is adamant about her recollection of voting in San Francisco in the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections, and the Sacramento Bee ran with a misreported item they let through their editing process," said Tucker Bounds, Whitman's deputy campaign manager. "Meg's voting record could certainly be better, but it should have been accurately reflected, and that's all we have been arguing for.


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But Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University, said whether or not Whitman voted once or twice over the past 28 years is beside the point.

"Even if it's true, it still reinforces the theme that this person has been fairly absent from California politics," Gerston said. "This draws attention, ignites the issue all over again."

Whitman's campaign quibbled most vociferously with the Bee's assertion that she had never voted in San Francisco.

The campaign says she canceled her registration there before 1992, the year the city's elections office transferred its files from one computer system to another.

But there also appears to be no way to prove she voted before 1992, either. In a letter to the Whitman campaign, John Arntz, the director of the San Francisco department of elections, wrote: "We cannot confirm or deny whether individual records for people where records were canceled prior to 1992 were included in the transition to the current system."

"Some records were moved forward, and some weren't," Arntz added in an interview. "There's no way to confirm if she voted."

That point seems to undercut the Bee's assertion that had she been registered and voting, her information would have been transferred to the city's current system. But Arntz noted that if Whitman had voted in the 1980s, as her campaign claims, then canceled her registration before 1992, it could explain why her records weren't found.

Whitman's campaign also says Ohio records show that, contrary to the Bee story, she did in fact register there in the early 80s, and that she'd registered in Santa Clara County starting in 1999. Officials in Hamilton County, Ohio, said they only checked computer records the first time someone asked about Whitman's voting record several months ago.

Jean Beirise, the office's registration editor, said she personally pored over archived records, kept on microfilm, after the office was contacted again. Still, even though records show that Whitman was registered to vote from 1980 to 1982, the elections office still could produce no record that she had actually voted.

And, while the Whitman campaign produced an affidavit number -- 70CE223397 -- that they said proved she'd registered in the late 90s in Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voter's office said it could not yet match the number with any record of her registering to vote.

Elaine Larsen, the assistant registrar, said affidavit numbers, which are placed on the bottom of voter registration forms, are used to help officials look up a record. She said officials have so far checked the office's computer and microfiche records to no avail and that they are now waiting for a delivery of archived computer files.

"We're doing everything we can to dig deeper and see if there's anything we can find," Larsen said. "We were unable to find anything from the files we have access to."

Asked if, so far, there's still been no conclusive evidence that Whitman had registered to vote in Santa Clara County, Larsen said: "Correct."

By confronting the Bee, the Whitman campaign appears to be trying to rally conservative voters around her, said Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

"If her side of the story holds up and if the Bee can't produce documentation to back up their story, this limits the damage, because Republicans tend to circle the wagons when they perceive that one of their own is under an unfair attack from the press," Pitney said.

Bee Capitol bureau editor Amy Chance said, "We plan to double back with the registrars to see if they find anything new, and we'll report what we find."