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O.C. Supervisor Wants Audit of Flawed Electronic Voting

About 7,000 voters cast ballots in wrong precincts, but officials don't believe outcomes were affected.

March 10, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County supervisor on Tuesday said he wants an investigation into last week's election, marred when poll workers using new electronic voting equipment gave thousands of voters ballots from the wrong precincts.

Supervisor Bill Campbell said he would ask the county's Internal Audit Department to review the March 2 ballot irregularities and also would welcome a probe by the county Grand Jury.

A Latino-rights organization last week also requested that the Grand Jury look into the voting problems.

A Times analysis found that about 7,000 voters cast ballots in the wrong precincts last week, affecting vote counts in many state and federal races.

"Even one error is bad. Seven thousand is terrible," Campbell said.

He said he wanted the review to search for solutions, not blame.

One solution Campbell sees is reducing the number of polling places that include multiple precincts with different ballots.

The bulk of last week's problems came when poll workers searching through a list of precinct numbers gave voters access codes for the wrong precincts.

If each polling place had only one precinct, such problems should not occur, officials said.

The irregularities did not appear to be widespread enough to jeopardize the outcome of any state or federal races. Registrar of Voters Steve Rodermund said some voters were given ballots with wrong precinct numbers, but that the ballots still displayed the correct contests.

But many other voters did cast ballots in races in which they were ineligible, The Times analysis found.

Rodermund said he would move to certify the results only if he were confident the irregular votes had not swayed the outcome.

He said he would invite the Grand Jury to review the procedures and equipment his staff used in the election.

"We would like to ask them to come and look at our processes and ask them what they think," Rodermund said.

"You always want a fresh perspective to look at what we're doing."

The civil rights advocacy group Los Amigos of Orange County suggested last week that the Grand Jury investigate.

It noted that "no one will ever know to a certainty the intent of Orange County voters as they tried to express it in a mis-administered election."

Rodermund said he and his staff hoped to estimate the number of ballots cast in improper races and report March 30 to the Board of Supervisors.

Once the election is certified, Rodermund said, the county will host a barbecue at the registrar's Santa Ana offices for all poll workers from last week's election to reward them for their service and to gather comments about the electronic voting system.

"These are the people from the trenches who rarely get the recognition that they should, so we're going to give it to them," he said.

Campbell said he wanted outside agencies to look into last week's election so the county could learn from its mistakes and prevent them from reoccurring.

"We have some very good talent in the internal audit area in looking at management systems, the way we run things," Campbell said.

"There's a lot of things we'll go back and rethink, I'm sure of that."

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