O.C. to Roll Out New and Improved Election Tracking

Times Staff Writer

Tallying results on election night has long been an embarrassment to Orange County, which has been plagued for years by slow counts, compared with other urban counties. But that may start changing Tuesday.

Thanks to new strategies and better technology for ballot handling, officials said, voters may soon get final returns faster and get more information about what’s happening behind the scenes as they wait.

And for political junkies who thrive on bits of polling data, precinct turnouts and voting patterns, the system will provide a wealth of up-to-the-minute information in the hours before the final numbers come in.


“We’ve had all of this information all along, and now we’re finally going to let people see it,” said Mark Denny, chief of staff to Supervisor Bill Campbell, whose office encouraged the upgrade.

“I know how frustrating it is to be watching numbers that don’t move,” said Neal Kelley, the county’s acting registrar of voters, who once ran for office himself.

Political insiders will appreciate all the bells and whistles, Campbell said, but the public is best served by providing the most accessibility possible on the most fundamental act of democracy: voting.

“The registrar’s office is obviously focused on the counting, but there are so many people who want to know what’s happening along the way,” he said.

All this is being coordinated at the registrar of voters office in Santa Ana, which has set up a command center in a conference room, with half a dozen laptop computers and two large screens with detailed precinct maps and troubleshooting lists alerting officials to any problems.

Much of the same information will be available to armchair politicos following the precinct-by-precinct results by computer.

Those linking off the registrar’s home page Tuesday will find an array of services: a live Web camera trained on the registrar’s delivery warehouse in Santa Ana providing constant image updates; street-level maps showing the locations of polling places with red, yellow and green triangles. Red means that ballots are still at the polling place, yellow means the ballots have left regional collection centers, and green means they have arrived at the registrar’s office and are being counted.

Updates expected on the half-hour will be tracked by a countdown clock.

Other improvements include mobile teams roaming the county with backup voting machines. The office will have three printing stations -- in Anaheim, Mission Viejo and Santa Ana -- with the ability to print paper ballots matched to individual precincts if the polling places run out.

The work was done by Kelley, who was appointed after Registrar Steve Rodermund was put on administrative leave Aug. 25 for an unspecified personnel investigation. Rodermund also had angered Jewish groups by scheduling a special congressional election on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

Kelley, who ran unsuccessfully for a Riverside community college board seat in 1999, said he empathized with candidates and campaign workers waiting for vote updates.

Tuesday’s special election will be a test run for the new services, which are expected to be more thoroughly tested with next year’s regular primary and general elections.

The only city election Tuesday in Orange County is a San Clemente race to fill a City Council seat. There also are four county initiatives, a bond measure for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and a utility-tax measure in La Habra.

Political consultants will appreciate being able to better evaluate how the voting evolves, said Adam Probolsky of Probolsky Research in Costa Mesa.

For example, people will be able to track whether specific precincts have sent ballots to be counted and which areas in multi-city districts have their votes in.

“It’s been tough in Orange County because they always had these old systems,” Probolsky said. Operations at the registrar’s office would “literally get shoved into a basement and mostly forgotten. This gives us more confidence that they know what they’re doing.”

He said he’d like to see even more information provided as election nights progress.