Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack announced Tuesday that she would retire at the end of the year, saying she was tired of battling state officials over the future of electronic voting machines.
McCormack, who has served 12 years as the top election official in the largest election jurisdiction in the country, said that Secretary of State Debra Bowen's move this month to pull the plug on the machines used in L.A. County and most of the state clinched her decision.
"I don't want to preside over the dismantling of voter services that have been successful and accurate," McCormack said. "I suppose I do take that personally."
Bowen decertified machines from three of the largest electronic voting companies in the country after a study found that they were susceptible to hacking. L.A. County's non-electronic InkaVote system also was decertified because the company that makes the machines did not turn them in on time for testing.
McCormack, 58, angrily accused Bowen of unfairly attacking the voting machines to gain political points. McCormack said testing of the balloting machines was flawed because safeguards present during elections were not taken into account. Election officials from other counties agreed.
In Sacramento, Bowen said she wished McCormack well. Of her tense relationship with county registrars, Bowen said, "We're all in this together. I won't succeed unless the registrars succeed."
"The voters don't much care whether we are getting along," she added. "They care that their elections are conducted fairly."
McCormack herself has been a target of advocates of paper-balloting.
Critics point to a brochure published several years ago by Diebold Election Systems, which makes touch-screen voting machines, that featured McCormack commenting positively on their equipment's performance. McCormack was not paid for the brochure. But even some supporters said it created the wrong perception.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky praised McCormack on Tuesday and said that her outspokenness made her a lightning rod.
"She defended her ground, where someone who was more public relations-conscious may have fared better," Yaroslavsky said. "But like I told her when she told me she was going to retire, 'You're good. You're going to be tough to replace.' "
Before assuming her post in Los Angeles, McCormack served as the registrar-recorder in San Diego and, before that, Dallas.
She has been credited, even by some critics, for moves that have helped enfranchise voters and for launching good voter outreach programs. McCormack manages an office with a $120-million annual budget and a staff of more than 1,000 permanent employees. L.A. County has more than 4 million voters, making it the largest election jurisdiction in the country.
But not everyone will miss her.
Brad Friedman, whose the Brad Blog has taken a leading role in questioning the electronic voting machine companies, said McCormack seemed more concerned about the voting machine companies than whether their machines were vulnerable to fraud, particularly by people involved in the electoral process.
Earlier this month, L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina criticized McCormack during a board meeting for alluding to the companies' profit margin in the wake of Bowen's decision.
"I suspect Conny understands there's a new sheriff in town," Friedman said, referring to Bowen. "I hope her replacement takes the concerns of election integrity seriously."
But Yaroslavsky said that critics were unfair to McCormack. He said that McCormack was always cautious in her recommendations to the board about adopting electronic voting technology.
Because of this, Los Angeles County is in a less precarious position than counties that quickly embraced electronic voting systems and now have to revert to paper-balloting, Yaroslavsky said.
"We didn't go all-electronic. That's not my opinion. That's a fact," Yaroslavsky said. "She was attacked by advocates for being a Diebold promoter, but she didn't promote Diebold at the end of the day."
But Yaroslavsky acknowledged that it was a mistake for McCormack to appear in the Diebold brochure.
"A picture's worth a thousand words," he said. "Nothing she was going to say or do in the mind of many election activists was going to change their minds."
McCormack said the brochure in question was not an ad. She said the quote used in the brochure stemmed from positive comments she had made regarding the performance of Diebold's machines during an election.
She said she didn't think it was a big deal when she was later asked by a Diebold representative if they could quote her.
But since then, critics have used the brochure to attack McCormack's credibility.
"It seems like they'll seize on anything, whether it's a theory, rumor or anything," McCormack said. "They don't have truth filters on some of those blogs. They can say anything they want."
McCormack said she had been contacted by several foundations about working in election administration research, nationally and abroad.
Yaroslavsky said that the county's chief executive officer would make a recommendation for a new registrar-recorder and that the board would vote on it. He said the most prudent step might be to have an interim registrar-recorder, because "before the February primary is not a good time to go about casting a wide national search."
Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.