Registrar Neal Kelley has presided over elections in Orange County for over a decade, and in that time he has earned praise from both Democrats and Republicans for his efforts to streamline and modernize how we run our elections. Under Kelley’s leadership, the office of the Orange County Registrar of Voters has earned a national reputation for fairness and innovation.
That is why last month’s decision by the Board of Supervisors to unanimously reject Kelley’s recommendations for increasing voter participation and saving tax dollars was a gut punch to everyone who cares about our democracy.
For those of you who don’t follow election officials closely, Kelley is basically the Mike Trout of county registrars–the best in the country. Kelley is a past president of both the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO) and the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks (NACRC). In 2015, when Trout was cheated out of the American League MVP Award, Kelley was awarded the 2015 Public Official of the Year from the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks.
Kelley recently helped write a new state law that allows counties to adopt “vote-center” models, similar to what is used in Colorado. This system has been proven to increase voter turnout, reduce costs, and tighten security. In the face of expert advice, the available data, and common sense, the Board of Supervisors said no to implementing the new system in Orange County.
Using the vote-center model, all eligible voters would receive vote-by-mail ballots a month before Election Day, and those ballots could be dropped off at any time at “military-grade” secure drop boxes. In addition to voting by mail, voters could cast ballots in person at one of 150 vote centers across the county, which would open for early voting 10 days before Election Day. This new system has been shown to increase voter participation and decrease costs—saving OC taxpayers about $26 million in the next year.
Why would anyone reject Kelley’s recommended reforms? Partisan politics, of course. Republicans on the Board of Supervisors like the current costly election system—it got them elected, after all. Instead of innovating, the Board has asked Kelley to create a plan to fix and replace old voting machines at over 1,000 polling locations, at a projected cost of $40 million.
The voters and taxpayers of Orange County deserve better.
Joe Kerr is a retired fire captain with the Orange County Fire Authority and the former president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association. He is a candidate for Orange County Supervisor.
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