Republican Undersheriff Donald Barnes had a 14.4 percent lead in early counts over Democrat and DA Investigator Duke Nguyen in the race to become Orange County’s next sheriff, according to a 1:40 a.m. update of votes counted.

The update showed Barnes with 57.1 percent to 42.9 percent for Nguyen and 561,657 votes cast so far.

Almost all of the Election Day votes on electronic voting machines have been counted, though there remain an unknown number of mail-in and provisional ballots left to count.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated with new counts on election night. The final update to the article was at 1:40 a.m. on Nov. 7. See an archive below of each Voice of OC update.

The two law enforcement veterans are vying to replace retiring Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who announced she would not seek re-election last year amid scandals over the department’s use of jailhouse informants and living conditions in the jails.

Barnes has worked for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for 29 years, and touted himself as an experienced manager who knows the department well. He’s benefited from a slew of endorsements from law enforcement and elected officials countywide, and has been the public face of the department since Hutchens announced last June she would step aside.

But Barnes also had the challenge of defending a scandal-worn department that is still grappling with controversies, including the recent discovery of improper recordings of phone calls between inmates and their attorneys. There are also pending investigations by the California Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice into the department’s use of jailhouse informants.

Nguyen, an investigator for the Los Angeles County District Attorney and former Santa Ana police Officer, pitched himself as a reformer who would weed out corruption and address other issues, like systemic racism and discrimination against people of color by law enforcement. Nguyen came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam in 1981.

Barnes was just shy in the primary election of the majority of votes he needed to win the seat outright, garnering 49.4 percent of votes compared to 31 percent for Nguyen and 19.5 percent for a third candidate, a Republican.

If the race is close, it could be weeks before the outcome of the election is known. In the June primary, 42 percent of all ballots in Orange County were not counted at of the end of election night. Many mail-in ballots did not arrive at the county elections office until the Friday deadline.


[8:05 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 6] The first reported election count showed Barnes with 57.1 percent to 42.9 percent for Nguyen.

[11:45 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 6] Update reflects precinct and vote-by-mail ballot counts. Barnes held 57.3 percent and Nguyen was at 42.7 percent.

[12:30 am Nov. 7] Update shows Barnes with 57.3 percent to 42.7 percent for Nguyen and 520,539 votes cast so far.

[1:40 am Nov. 7] Updated to add additional votes counted.

Contact Thy Vo at or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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