State and O.C. officials assure public about election security as people begin voting in Tuesday’s election

People walk in and out of a voting center at Costa Mesa Senior Center in March 2020.
State and county election officials this week tried to reassure the public of all the efforts that are taken to cut down on voter fraud, which they say is scarce in Orange County.
(File Photo)

California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber went on a tour with reporters of the Orange County Registrar of Voters offices this week to assure the public about the accuracy and security of the county’s election process with primary elections coming up on March 5.

With election skepticism growing as activists routinely call on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to go back to paper ballots only and precincts instead of vote centers, the election officials tried to reassure the public of all the efforts that are taken to cut down on fraud, which they say is scarce.

Weber said Monday Orange County’s system is much like all of the others throughout the state.


“The system itself is pretty consistent,” she said.

She pointed to the large metal boxes used for voters to drop off ballots.

“This is enormous,” she said of the boxes. “If you touch it you can see how thick it is, how permanent it is. ... Sometimes you hear people talking about these boxes moving around the county, but they don’t. They’re steel boxes, basically drilled into the ground.”

When asked what message she has for skeptics who continue to doubt the system’s integrity, Weber said, “There will always be those who won’t believe, but we also know that the results are verified over and over.”

Anyone who “has an issue or concern is welcome to” report it to their local registrar of the secretary of state’s office, she said.

“We generally take that seriously,” she said. “We don’t just toss that off and say those things can’t happen.”

She added, “I always find it interesting that those who don’t believe in the system, but they believe they got elected. ... It was working for you, but for everyone else it was fraud or deception.”

For those who tout a return to hand-counting paper ballots, Weber said it is a tremendously time-consuming task. She pointed out that hand-counting averages an error rate of 25%, compared to less than 1% for machine tallying.

“Hand counting is not the most accurate,” Weber said. “There are some things good in the old days — maybe some kind of bread your mother made that was really good, but there are some things like washing your clothes and running them through a wringer that are not very attractive at all to me. So we have to make sure when we go back to the good old days that we pick the ones that are really good days versus something we have nostalgic feelings about.”

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley agreed about a return to the older style of paper ballot voting.

“We don’t want to go back to those days,” Foley said. “People voting in someone’s garage may be nostalgic, but it’s not as secure.”

Orange County Registrar of Voters Bob Page noted that after every election 1% of the ballots are counted by hand as part of the process to audit the accuracy of the tally.

“That 1% manual canvas will take one or two weeks,” Page said. “It would take a lot more people and a lot more time to potentially hand count all of the votes.”

Discrepancies found in hand counts usually are like someone marking a ballot with a highlighter pen that could not be picked up by the machine but could be seen by the naked eye — but those are rare, Page said.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said he believes “fundamentally in our system” and that in Orange County, “I do believe it’s working very, very well.”

Spitzer said most of the election fraud allegations his office fields involve something amiss in signature gathering and candidates not living in the districts in which they seek to be elected. The most common complaint involves electioneering when people campaign too close to the polls, he said.

Sometimes the prosecutors get complaints about double voting, but most of the time it is accidental, Spitzer said. It usually happens with a voter in mental decline who forgot they voted by mail and then showed up to vote on election day, he said.

So-called voter impersonation “is extremely rare,” Spitzer said.

“I can’t speak for other counties, but I can say that in Orange County we do not have rampant voter fraud,” Spitzer said.

But Spitzer warned against “making false allegations” of fraud to tarnish an opposing candidate.

“If you make false allegations we’ll prosecute you for that,” Spitzer said.