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Problems Few -- Just Like Voters

An estimated 30% of the electorate casts ballots, about half the rate of four years ago.

November 06, 2002|Jean O. Pasco and Vivian LeTran | Times Staff Writers

Orange County elections officials reported few problems Tuesday as voters turned out in low numbers to decide a variety of races and measures that nonetheless failed to ignite much interest.

Only about 30% of voters had cast ballots, according to preliminary calculations. The turnout was well below voting activity four years ago, when 61% of Orange County voters went to the polls.

"People only show up and vote when they want to, and this time I guess they didn't feel like they wanted to," said Steve Rodermund, deputy chief registrar for Orange County.

The only major problem occurred in Irvine. A handful of voters were kept from casting ballots at 9 a.m. at a gated community in the Northpark neighborhood after security guards blocked them from entering.

One of the voters called the registrar's office to complain. Rodermund said he sent an inspector and immediately called the homeowners association. Irvine's city clerk also came out to check. The matter was resolved within 10 minutes, he said. The homeowners association had approved the polling place but had failed to notify the guards. Polling places by law must be open to the public.

"Like with anything else, sometimes the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing," Rodermund said.

Of the county's 1,732 polling places, only a few are within gated communities, he said. Tuesday's was the only instance of voters being kept from entering a gated neighborhood.

In another incident, the opening of a polling place in Irvine was delayed after an inspector overslept. The polling place was opened at 7:15 a.m. after the tardy worker arrived and was sent home.

In other precincts around the county, poll workers and voters said they experienced only minor glitches, including language difficulties, missing names on rosters and occasional long waits. Many emphasized the need for more bilingual poll workers and better organization and outreach.

"It's been interesting," said Westminster precinct inspector Barbara Branch, who spent much of her time gesturing to first-time Vietnamese voters who spoke little if any English. In a precinct where more than half the voters are Vietnamese, Branch said, only one worker could speak both Vietnamese and English.

"We didn't turn anyone away. But it got frustrating for some. Fortunately, the people who came to vote really wanted to vote and were excited to vote. So by the end of the process, everyone is happy."

A few miles away in Santa Ana, polling worker Joanna Qiao said she was relieved to have three additional poll workers at the Santa Ana Senior Center, which remained busy all day. In past elections, she handled the job solo.

"Very smooth. No problems. This year, it's very busy," said Qiao. A larger stipend for poll workers helped, especially with bilingual workers, she said. The center had workers who spoke Tagalog, Vietnamese and Spanish.

But things were not perfect.

"We were still overwhelmed," said Efren Gomez, a precinct inspector in Santa Ana. "We had one poll worker, who was supposed to be fluent in Spanish, who didn't show up."

Tuesday was the last time most Orange County voters will use the county's older punch-ballot system. The Board of Supervisors in December will choose a new electronic voting system.

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