OC Registrar of Voters shares inside look at voting, election process

By SARA HALL

During the Speak Up Newport monthly meeting on June 10, Orange County Registrar of Voters’ Bob Page discussed the voter and election process. About 60 people gathered in the community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center and more watched the live stream on local TV or Zoom.

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Courtesy of OC Registrar of Voters/Speak Up Newport

Orange County Registrar of Voters’ Bob Page

Page shared the registrar of voters’ mission statement, “to provide election services for the citizens of Orange County to ensure equal access to the election process, protect the integrity of votes, and maintain a transparent, accurate and fair process.” The vision is to ensure excellence in the administration of elections to inspire confidence and trust in the democratic process, he added.

“There are some key tenets in terms of what we do in the office that we believe lets us achieve most of those,” he said.

Those include offering a customer service-based experience, commitment to quality management, building community relationships, and improving communication and collaboration. They also implement a number of different various security measures to protect the accuracy and the integrity elections, Page added.

After a brief interruption from a member of the audience asking about voting machines, Page confirmed later that the vote tally system is not connected to the internet.

Other technical measures include electronic voter check-in with near real-time updates, pre- and post-election confirmation of voting system software version, and intrusion detection and prevention systems are in place. All votes are cast on paper ballots and voter data is also secured and encrypted while in transit and at rest, he confirmed.

There are a number of different steps that they take to ensure that that the equipment has not been tampered with, Page said.

He also noted some of the physical security and integrity measures that they utilize, including badge access controls, auditable security seals on equipment, and secure metal ballot drop boxes that are bolted to the concrete and individually keyed.

The process includes regular and consistent voter file maintenance, signature verification of all vote-by-mail ballots, pre-election and post-election logic and accuracy tests, and a 1% manual tally and risk limiting audit. They also partner with federal, state and local law enforcement, and district attorneys.

In terms of ballot handling, Page said they use randomized routes so they’re not going the same way every day, they are GPS tracked, handlers take photos of each box, and they maintain radio communication with them throughout the chain of custody. Every time they go to a drop box, they also fill out a form, he added.

Anybody who’s handling ballots has to be part of a two-person teams; they can’t have just one person handling them, Page explained.

They have a strict chain of custody procedures that they follow, Page said.

They perform background checks on all employees and provide extensive training to all employees. They get hands-on experience with the equipment before they go out to the vote centers to work, Page noted.

“We work really hard to make sure those people are prepared,” he said.

They also provide support to them during the process, he added, supervisors make the rounds to the different centers to provide assistance and answer questions, while rapid deployment teams are in the field with equipment and tools in case they are needed.

They also have a close relationship with law enforcement on all levels, Page added. They use DA investigators, sheriff deputies and security officers. If there’s any allegation of fraudulent behavior or other kind of intimidation, they’re ready to investigate, he said.

It’s important to make sure that the staff and volunteers feel safe and can do their jobs accurately and without fear of any kind of issue, he explained.

“Since I’ve been there, and I’m not aware of any time before that, we’ve not had any discrepancy in comparing the hand count to the machine count,” Page said.

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The only kind of differences that they have seen is related to human judgment, for example somebody marked the ballot but didn’t fill in the square and instead made a check mark or circled a name. The scanning machine is not going to pick that up, he explained, but state law and regulations require that they still examine it and count their vote as intended. The directions say to fill in the square, but “even though they didn’t follow the instructions we’re still supposed to count their vote” if they were consistent in how they voted, Page said. For example, if the person circled the names for every vote they wanted, they can adjudicate that ballot and count the votes.

They are required by law to perform all daily maintenance activities and they perform additional discretionary activities, including identification of duplicate voter registration files, access third-party data to identify possible voter changes, and encourage voters to update their information and signature.

These measures result in better than industry standards, in terms of mailing out ballots and how many are returned as undeliverable, he commented. Page noted that 97,477 voters were canceled in 2023 (including 14,987 deceased) and only 1.59% of ballots mailed in the 2024 primary election were returned as undeliverable.

“We feel like all the different steps that we take to maintain those records on a daily basis are working,” Page said.

The county invested $4.1 million on vote-by-mail ballot process equipment, he noted.

There are also state mandates they have to follow, Page added, including mailing a ballot to all active registered voters, offering mail ballot drop-off locations, starting voting 29 days before the election day, checking ID of some first-time voters and allowing voters to authorize anyone to return their ballot.

“I encourage people to give it to somebody you trust and then to verify that trust by signing up for a ballot tracking service,” Page said.

A person proves who they are at the time they register to vote, Page clarified, they’re required to provide some ID information that can be compared to ensure it matches and that’s who is actually registering.

“If you show up to vote in person, you’re not required to provide an ID. The only people that we do ask to show ID is if somebody has registered the vote and didn’t provide complete information,” he added.

Page also briefly discussed various state laws related to election measures.

He also noted grand jury reports that have made findings that the county has a secure and accurate process.

During the question-and-answer portion of the forum, speakers asked or commented about: The process, the lack of confidence in the voting equipment, the chain of custody, communication and outreach from the registrar of voters’ office, variations in the process with each state and the public observing the process. One speaker was escorted out of the room after an outburst, yelling that the election was not legitimate and claiming that the system was rigged.

The registrar of voters’ office will be holding an open house, typically during the first week of voting. Party officials, candidates and the public are invited to attend. People can ask questions about the process, view presentations, ask about operations and more.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.


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