Board will let courts decide recount

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Times Staff Writer

Saying they preferred that a court sort out a contested ballot recount, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to delay naming the winner of the Feb. 6 election for one week.

The decision came a day after Janet Nguyen claimed victory -- an announcement made a couple of hours before Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley certified that she had bested fellow Republican Trung Nguyen by seven votes in the race for the 1st District supervisorial seat.

Anticipating a legal challenge from Trung Nguyen that was filed in Orange County Superior Court later in the day, supervisors spent Tuesday morning poring over the nuances of election law before deciding to delay swearing in a new colleague -- whoever that may be -- until their March 6 meeting.


“I’m getting a little confused,” Supervisor John Moorlach said.

Trung Nguyen seeks to invalidate the recount on several issues, including whether some ballots were improperly disallowed because voters wrote comments or drew flowers on them.

The initial ballot count made him the winner by seven votes.

His lawyers also argue there wasn’t a full recount because the paper audit of election day electronic votes wasn’t counted manually.

Kelley, in consultation with county lawyers, allowed Janet Nguyen to choose which counting method to use, since her campaign was paying for it. Michael Schroeder, a political advisor to Trung Nguyen, told supervisors it was premature for them to swear in Janet Nguyen.

“The recount in question was not completed,” he said.

Phillip Greer, an attorney for Janet Nguyen, implored board members to accept the recount as is.

“Everything in this recount was transparent and aboveboard,” he said.

“It is now time to get past the process of politics and campaigning and get on with the business of governing.”

Tuesday’s event threw more curves into the three-week drama over replacing Supervisor Lou Correa, who gave up his board seat after he was elected to the state Senate in November.


“It sits there lonely, empty and cold, and it’s yearning for someone to sit there,” said board Chairman Chris Norby.

The seesawing election results, he added, “puts the focus on the fact that every vote does matter.”

Janet Nguyen and Trung Nguyen, who aren’t related, surprised analysts by energizing the county’s huge Vietnamese-American vote and topping a field of 10 candidates, including two backed by the Republican and Democratic parties.

While praising Kelley’s work, board members said there were enough issues -- in particular, differing interpretations of rules governing electronic voting -- to wait until they could be vetted by a judge.

“This is not about whether [the recount] was properly done,” Supervisor Bill Campbell said.

“This is about challenging the secretary of state’s guidelines and what was intended by the Legislature.”


Indeed, Trung Nguyen’s challenge may prove precedent-setting in the relatively new field of electronic voting, said Tracy Westen, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.

“I’m not convinced we need it,” he said of a paper audit trail. “But if we are going to have paper ballots for some reason ... this would appear to be it.

“Why else would you have one if you’re not going to use it in a recount?”




The winner is?

Janet Nguyen won the 1st Supervisorial District election recount by seven votes -- the same margin by which Trung Nguyen had won on election day. The O.C. Board of Supervisors will wait a week before deciding which candidate to seat.

*--* Candidate Feb. 6 Recount Janet Nguyen 10,913 10,919 Trung Nguyen 10,920 10,912 Tom Umberg 9,728 9,725 C. Bustamante 7,475 7,460 Mark Rosen 2,182 2,181 Brett E. Franklin 1,739 1,739 Kermit Marsh 1,335 1,335 Larry Phan 419 417 Lupe Moreno 384 383 Benny Diaz 274 273


Source: O.C. registrar of voters