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O.C. Interim Registrar Readies Special Tactics for Recall Election

September 15, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Steve Rodermund, who wants to be Orange County's permanent registrar of voters, is having something of a job tryout next month.

Rodermund, the interim registrar, is overseeing the county's portion of California's unprecedented gubernatorial recall election Oct. 7 and says the county will be ready.

Last week, his office shipped out the first batch of absentee and sample ballots to the more than 1.3 million registered county voters. Rodermund also expects to have enough volunteers to staff the county's polling places on election day but is still accepting applications, particularly from speakers of foreign languages.

Most voters will be directed to new voting places. Rodermund said the county decided to operate only 476 polling places instead of more than 1,700 sites used in the November election.

Because the county had 75 days to prepare for the election, compared to six months for most countywide elections, Rodermund said it made sense to use fewer polling places but with more voting booths at each site.

With fewer polling places, it's likely that voters will encounter longer than usual lines. But Rodermund said he expects those lines to move swiftly, because voters will have to make far fewer decisions -- four of them, to be precise -- than in primary or general elections. In addition to deciding whether Gov. Gray Davis should be recalled and who his replacement should be, voters will vote on two statewide propositions.

"If this was a general election where you have a lot of things on the ballot, this could get really nasty really fast. People would have so many things to vote on they'd be in the booth minute upon minute," Rodermund said. "Based on our experience in other recall elections, you go through the voting process really quickly. There will be a lot of people, but they'll move through very quickly.

"We apologize we're doing it this way, but we didn't have a lot of options."

In addition to possible long lines, voters will face an unfamiliar ballot. To accommodate the names of all the gubernatorial candidates, the county is replacing the traditional punch-card ballot with pen and a legal-size sheet of paper. Voters will be asked to fill in small rectangles to mark their choices.

Because the county has never dealt with such a closely watched special election, election officials are not sure what to expect on election day. Rodermund said he will store extra voting booths at the registrar's Santa Ana headquarters and ship them to any polling places with long lines or heavy volume.

In addition to printing the polling place and address on the sample ballots, election officials plan to install signs Oct. 7 at former polling places to direct voters to the proper address. Additionally, voters needing help in finding their polling place can log onto the registrar's Web site, www.oc.ca.gov/election/, or call (714) 567-7600.

Rodermund said voters can avoid lines and confusion by casting absentee ballots. The last day to request an absentee ballot is Sept. 30. Absentee voting will accelerate vote counting on election night, he noted.

The county expects to use about 2,700 poll workers on election day, about 500 to 700 of them county workers who volunteered to help at the polls, Rodermund said.

Rodermund hopes the election will go smoothly enough to bolster his own campaign to become the permanent registrar.

"Anybody who's coming into an election like this is going to feel some pressure," Rodermund said. "I would like to be the registrar of voters. That's the decision of the [county executive officer]. If I'm fortunate and this election goes well, that may be something that helps me in the interview."

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