A chance for Orange County residents to shape the future of their government is just around the corner.

With a host of high-stakes seats up for everything from district attorney to county supervisor to Congress, OC voters have a shot at influencing how officials approach homelessness and criminal justice – and perhaps even be a deciding factor in which party controls Congress.

The first key date?

May 9.

That’s when voters can start casting their ballots in the primary election, which runs through June 7.

On that day, mail-in ballots will be sent to all 1.8 million registered voters in OC and all 120 ballot drop-boxes are slated to open across the county.

Voters have multiple options for casting their ballot: mailing it in, turning it in at a ballot drop-box or vote center, filling it out in person at a vote center, or printing out their ballot at home, filling it out and turning it in.

The first set of 43 vote centers are slated to open May 28, with the other 138 opening June 4 – all of which will stay open through the last day of voting on June 7.

Computer systems keep track of all the ballots that are received and make sure only one ballot is counted for each registered voter, said Bob Page, the county’s new top official overseeing elections.

“Bottom line – our office, our responsibility is to conduct the election, and do it fairly and accurately and transparently,” said Page, the registrar of voters, in a news conference Thursday over Zoom.

He noted every voter in OC will also see at least one of their districts change for county, state or Congressional representation, a result of the once-a-decade redistricting that happens after the U.S. Census.

A whopping 94% of OC voters will be in a new state Assembly district, for example, Page said.

[To see what your new districts are, visit ocvote.gov/findmydistrict.]

In response to concerns about election integrity, county officials are trying out a new tracking option at nine of the ballot drop-boxes, where voters can choose to scan a QR code on their ballot envelope when they drop off their ballot.

That scan would then get logged in the Registrar’s systems as showing the ballot was dropped off at the box.

As for concerns about hacking vulnerabilities with election machines, Page said all the ballot counting machines are unplugged from the internet – known as “air gapped.”

And the actual ballots themselves are all cast on paper – even those filled out in person on voting machines, which ultimately print out a paper ballot that’s scanned.

“All voting is on paper,” Page said.

“We actually count those votes by running those pieces of paper through scanners. And then we keep them and hold onto them for any audits, hand counts we need to do, potential recounts.”

In response to questions from Voice of OC, county officials are looking at clearing up confusion that often hangs over the way they report out election night results.

In the last several elections, the official election results on the Registrar of Voters website prominently said the results “100%” reporting from precincts, even though large numbers of mail-in and provisional ballots hadn’t yet been reviewed.

That has led some confusion among residents who see the “100%” reporting label but notice the vote tallies increase in the following days as more ballots are counted.

The Registrar’s results also reflect only the Orange County portion of districts that cross multiple counties – though that has not made clear on the results page in recent elections.

At Thursday’s news conference, Voice of OC asked if county officials plan to label this more clearly to address the confusion.

The county’s top election official said he would look into it.

“I think that is something that’s often confusing for voters,” Page said.

“I will look at what we publish on our website…and see if there’s a way that we can make that clearer,” he added.

“We don’t want voters being confused in thinking we’re done [at the end of election night], because we’re not. Under the law we have 30 days after election night to complete the canvass, which includes processing all the mail ballots, processing all the provisional ballots we might receive, as well as completing all of our balancing and audits we do, and test.”

Click here for a list of candidates in the primary election.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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