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Orange County Election Officials Hope To Stave Off Potential Critics With Extra Transparency

Monitors are attached to a chain-link fence inside a warehouse. The monitors show people's handling ballots.
Monitors at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana show election workers handling ballots that need to be processed, Nov. 15, 2022.
(Jill Replogle
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At the Orange County Registrar of Voters building in Santa Ana, observers stare up at monitors trained on each election workers' hands as they open up envelopes and extract mail-in ballots. Others face monitors showing computer screens as workers compare voter signatures on ballot envelopes to signatures from past elections.

And workers stand around in yellow vests ready to answer any questions observers have about the process.

What State Law Says

All of this is new, according to Bob Page, OC's Registrar of Voters. The office implemented the monitors and staffers to answer observer questions after the 2022 primary election. The monitors showing signature comparison were put in place to comply with social distancing at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"It's incumbent upon us as election administrators now to understand that there's an interest and be prepared to get information out there ahead of time, be more proactive about communicating what we do, and make sure we've got staff assigned to answer the questions when they come up," he said.

California law guarantees the public can watch voting and the vote-counting process (eyes only — no touching of any ballots or election equipment is allowed), and it's common for candidates, political party representatives and interest groups like the League of Women Voters to do so. Page said this year observers in Orange County have also included students, a Girl Scout troop and Congressional representatives from the Committee on House Administration.

In the foreground, a woman with her back turned wears a bright yellow vest with a sign that reads "Ask me about general observer questions." In the background, a row of people sit in front of computers.
Staff at the OC Registrar of Voters are assigned to answer questions from election observers.
(Jill Replogle

Tight Races, High Interest

Interest in observing the vote count here is especially high this year because of past, unfounded fraud claims by former President Donald Trump and some of his followers, and because of several, hotly contested congressional races, including the 47th and 49th districts where incumbent Democrats Katie Porter and Mike Levin hold relatively slim leads.

On Wednesday, the sign-in log at the Orange County Registrar's headquarters showed 65 election observers had come through as of about 3:30 p.m. Among them was 59-year-old Ed Lowe.

"I'm just trying to educate myself because I know the next election it's going to be a bloodbath because how this country is now so polarized," he said.

Lowe, a Republican, said he hadn't seen big problems with the integrity of Orange County's election system, but he's not a fan of measures taken in recent years to expand early voting and voting by mail.

"We make it harder on ourselves," he said, citing the difficulty of matching the signature on a ballot envelope with a voter's other signatures on file. When that happens, election officials must notify the voter and give them the opportunity to "cure," or correct, the problem.

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"You could avoid that by not having the mail and just go in and do the old days..." Lowe said.

How The Vote Unfolded So Far

Data from the O.C. Registrar of Voters shows that Republicans made up some 57% of people who cast ballots in person on election day, despite making up just 33% of registered voters in the county.

The final results of the 2022 election must be certified by county election officials by Dec. 8.

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