Watchdog Group Questions Election Integrity in California’s Orange County

November 5, 2020 Updated: November 6, 2020

An election watchdog group has raised red flags about problems with the voting process in Orange County, California.

Election Integrity Project California (EIPCa) identified several problems, including potential violations of voter privacy laws, poorly trained poll workers, malfunctioning systems, and observers being kept too far away to properly observe the counting of ballots.

In addition, Ruth Weiss, EIPCa’s director of legislative oversight, told The Epoch Times the Electronic Poll Books (used by poll workers to review voter registration information) were either malfunctioning or being incorrectly operated. 

“There could be a glitch in their system, and they’re not finding these people in the system, and so they’re just saying, ‘Well, you’re going to have to vote provisionally.’”

EIPCa heard poll workers telling many people, including large groups of students, to use “provisional” ballots, seemingly without following the proper process, according to law.

Actually, they weren’t using provisional ballots, they were using same-day voter registration or “conditional” registration, which is permitted under recent changes to state law. There was confusion regarding the terminology, leading EIPCa to believe provisional ballots were being used incorrectly.

Weiss said the poll workers’ inaccurate use of the word “provisional” where they should have said “conditional” was one of several errors showing poll worker training was “horrible” and there were too many new changes for everyone to keep up with.

Poll worker training was based on an “honor system,” she said; workers were asked to stay at home and watch a video.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley countered those claims.

“What does she want us to do in the midst of a COVID pandemic?” he said. “I disagree with that 100 percent. We have one of the best training programs in the state. It’s not an honor system; it’s a distance learning tool that goes through a series of tests and quizzes before there are ever allowed to go to the in-person meetings.”

The Electronic Poll Books were rolled out for the first time this month, Weiss said. 

“None of us have any sense of just how trustworthy they are. … That, on top of everything else that’s new and different, is just really disorienting voters and maybe skewing situations.”

With Republicans casting doubt over the Democrat push for vote-by-mail ballots and “so many other changes,” voters were confused, Weiss said. Many of the new procedures are legitimate, and could be good ideas, “but this is too much to dump on voters all at one time … and so a lot of people are getting very suspicious, very angry, very distrustful, [and] very upset.”

EIPCa received complaints across the state from voters who said they were told by poll workers they had already voted “when they were standing there with their vote-by-mail ballot in their hands,” Weiss said.

Voter Privacy

At a voting center in Anaheim’s Honda Center, Weiss said voters were allowed to gather in groups to fill out their ballots, which is illegal. EIPCa issued warnings to the registrar’s office, but poll workers failed to heed them. 

“They are dismissing the law; they’re dismissing what’s in their own manual and the registrar has been very difficult to reach and is not really helping much in resolving issues,” she said.

Weiss said the Registrar of Voters office is “not taking responsibility for the fact that they just didn’t train the poll workers adequately for the job. … So, unfortunately, we have some poll workers who are not very well trained … and they have no idea that voters are not supposed to be voting together in nice little family groups and are just allowing it.” 

Although training manuals contain information about voter privacy, it wasn’t covered in their video training, Weiss said. 

‘Keeping Poll Observers at Bay’

Many counties regarded social distancing requirements as a time to “keep poll observers at bay,” Weiss said. In some cases, she said, observers were kept so far away from the activity in vote centers that they couldn’t really see or hear what was happening.

“This year, under color of COVID, we are being relegated in some cases 30 or 40 feet away and told ‘You can watch from here.’ That’s not observing. There is no way we can determine if the processes are being done accurately, and if things are going according to the law, when you can’t see, and you can’t hear, and you’re 40 feet away.”

“Most counties were very much problematic in terms of giving observers appropriate access to do our job,” she said.  

Kelley disagreed.

“Sometimes, this kind of armchair quarterbacking is not helpful,” Kelley said. “We’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. I don’t know what to tell her.”

California law allows any citizen to observe any element of the electoral process that they want to observe, and the secretary of state has defined the word “observe” as meaning to be close enough to see and hear, Weiss said. 

“It is a national issue but it’s a bigger issue in California, because California is only one of two states that actually allow observers to observe every aspect of the election process without limitations,” Weiss said. “And so the violation in California is a bigger one than the nationwide story, because we actually have a law that is being broken here.”

Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment. 

Weiss said several registrars were uncooperative with EIPCa.

“I was calling them trying to report problems. They didn’t answer the phone.”

Kelley said he’s aware of EIPCa’s complaints but hasn’t had time to deal with them in the midst of an election. He said one of his 300 staff members responded to Weiss via email.

With more than a million voters in Orange County, “we cannot address every single thing that comes up at the warp speed that they want. It can’t happen,” he said. “What we do is we take that information in and if we need to look into it later, we’ll do that.” 

Kelley said his office has addressed some of EIPCa’s concerns and made improvements in the past. 

“I would love to sit down with them over the next few weeks,” but not the day after the election, he said. “I believe in the observation. I believe in transparency, and … I welcome their reports.”