By Ray F. Herndon and Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times, 03/09/04
Poll workers struggling with a new electronic voting system in last week's election gave thousands of Orange County voters the wrong ballots, according to a Times analysis of election records. In 21 precincts where the problem was most acute, there were more ballots cast than registered voters.
Election officials acknowledged that poll workers provided some voters incorrect access codes that caused them to vote in the wrong legislative districts but said there was no evidence yet that any result was in jeopardy.
"From what we have seen so far, we do not believe any of these instances where people voted in precincts they shouldn't have voted in would have affected any of the races," said Steve Rodermund, Orange County's registrar of voters.
David Hart, chairman of Texas-based Hart InterCivic, which manufactured Orange County's voting system, said it would be impossible to identify which voters cast ballots in the wrong precincts because of steps the company had taken to ensure voter secrecy. For this reason, an exact account of miscast ballots is impossible.
The Times arrived at its estimate of 7,000 improper ballots by comparing precincts with unusually high voter turnout to the average turnout at polling places.
Orange County election officials have traced the problem to poll workers who were responsible for giving each voter a four-digit code to enter into the voting machines.
In Anaheim, one Orange County poll worker said he was so confused by the precinct numbers that he told voters issued the wrong ballot to simply write in candidates' names if they didn't see them on the ballot. It was a frustrating experience for Shirley Green, an Anaheim Republican who said a ballot for the wrong precinct appeared on her voting machine.
"I said, 'There's no sense in writing in someone in the 67th that's running on the 68th.' … I was very upset about it. It's not fair to the people that are running, and it's not fair to the people that are voting."
To successfully challenge the outcome of an election, losing candidates would have to prove in court that the problem was so widespread it probably changed the outcome of the election, said Fred Woocher, a Santa Monica election law attorney.
That doesn't appear to be the case in Orange County, where the only close race — the Democratic primary for the 69th Assembly seat — did not appear to be affected enough to change the result, according to the Times' analysis.
In the next few weeks, Orange County election officials will work on certifying the results from the March 2 election. They will look for evidence of questionable ballots. Unless officials find evidence that an outcome was changed because voters cast ballots in the wrong precincts, the results will be certified, Rodermund said.