An O.C. supervisor -- maybe

Times Staff Writer

Janet Nguyen was certified Monday as the winner of the Feb. 6 election for Orange County supervisor after a weeklong ballot recount that will probably be challenged in court by the initial top vote-getter, fellow Republican Trung Nguyen.

County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said Janet Nguyen’s margin of victory was seven votes -- the same number she was behind when the recount began.

Janet Nguyen claimed victory at a brief news conference outside the Hall of Administration in Santa Ana, where county supervisors meet.


“I’m deeply humbled and honored to stand here today as a supervisor-elect,” she said, declining to answer questions about an impending challenge.

Asked whether winning by just seven votes provided her with a mandate, she said it did.

But the contentious, seesaw election isn’t quite over.

Late Monday, Trung Nguyen’s campaign was fashioning a legal challenge, arguing that there wasn’t a full recount because the paper audit of about 11,000 election-day electronic votes weren’t counted manually.

“Just pushing the button” -- and recalculating the electronic vote -- “doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t know before,” said Michael Schroeder, a political advisor to Trung Nguyen. “You need to recount all the ballots, including those that were cast at the polls.”

Janet Nguyen’s campaign, which paid for the recount, requested that the ballots cast on a voting machine be counted electronically and not by the more expensive method of tallying the paper votes, Kelley said.

Today Kelley is scheduled to report his findings to the Board of Supervisors, which could swear in Janet Nguyen or wait until a court rules. By law, supervisors have until March 6 to seat a supervisor.

“Both sides will be able to make their case in court and tomorrow in the court of public opinion before the board,” Board Chairman Chris Norby said. “No one really knows what will happen.”

If Kelley’s decision stands, Janet Nguyen, 30, a virtual political unknown three months ago, would become the first Vietnamese American -- and the youngest person -- to serve as an Orange County supervisor.


“I would hope they wouldn’t challenge this,” said Phillip Greer, an attorney for Janet Nguyen.

“This [the recount] has been a very, very transparent deal. This has been a divisive election, and at this point, we as Republicans need to rally around the winner .... We need to begin the healing process.”

The recount caps three weeks of drama that saw Janet Nguyen up by 52 votes on election night and down seven votes the next day after provisional and late absentee ballots were counted. She asked for the recount, and during a week of careful inspection by election officials, the gap closed with each day. At day’s end Friday, the candidates were virtually tied.

The election to replace 1st District Supervisor Lou Correa, who was elected to the state Senate in November, was a watershed for the county’s Vietnamese American community, the largest in the nation.

Trung Nguyen and Janet Nguyen, Republicans who aren’t related, entered the campaign with scant political experience. Trung Nguyen, 49, is a Garden Grove schools trustee. Janet Nguyen is a first-term Garden Grove city councilwoman.

Still, the pair bested a field of 10 candidates, including two experienced insiders backed by the local GOP and Democratic Party. The upset shocked analysts, who hailed it as a sign of the community’s political maturation.


The Nguyens waged a fierce six-week campaign in Westminster, Garden Grove and Santa Ana that centered on illegal immigration -- a polarizing issue over which the five county supervisors have little control.

Analysts, though, said the focus probably energized the Vietnamese American vote in Little Saigon.

Advisors for both sides said the recount turned on less than three dozen ballots that were either invalidated or improperly counted the first time.

Some voters either initialed or signed their names to ballots, which invalidated them, Greer said.

“One person wrote, ‘Could all the candidates please stop saying bad things about each other.’ ”

Virtually all of the affected votes came from Vietnamese-language ballots, Schroeder said, which indicated to him that they were “first-time voters, new citizens. That’s very common.”



Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this report.