Monday, August 29, 2005

Orange County registrar placed on leave

Last week Orange County officials placed the county's Registrar of Voters, Steve Rodermund, on administrative leave. The Los Angeles Times' story reports that it's a "personnel matter", according to County Executive Officer Thomas G. Mauk. Rodermund has been criticized recently for scheduling a special congressional election to be held on Rosh Hashanah, one of the most important holidays in the Jewish faith. However, according to the article that appeared in the Orange County Register, this was not the reason why Rodermund was placed on leave.

County officials are keeping mum as to why Rodermund has been removed from his office. As registrar, Rodermund has been responsible for steering the county's purchase of an electronic voting system from Hart, a vendor located in Texas that teamed up with the public relations firm Maximus to win the county's $26 million contract in April 2003. In the March 2004 Primary election, Orange was one of three counties in the state that experienced serious, widespread technical problems with their electronic voting systems, which led the State Legislature to hold a hearing to examine what went wrong and ultimately helped win passage of SB 1438 which mandates a voter verified paper trail for electronic ballots. Orange County is currently the only Hart client in California, and the amount of money the county may have to spend to make its Hart eSlate voting machines comply with California's new voter verified paper audit trail law could be as high as $9 million.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Deputy Registrar Neal Kelley will be running the elections department during Rodermund's absence. Rodermund did not return calls from either the LA Times or Orange County Register seeking comment.

Excerpts from the Orange County Register article are below.


The void comes at a busy time for registrar officials planning the myriad details for two special elections in the next two months.

On Oct. 4, more than 400,000 voters will cast ballots to fill a vacancy in the 48th Congressional District. And on Nov. 8 voters will go to the polls in a special election called by the governor.

Another election could be held in early December if no candidate vying for the 48th Congressional District seat wins a majority. A win by state Sen. John Campbell in that election could trigger as many as four more elections with state assembly members moving up to run for Campbell's Senate seat.


With so many issues to deal with, it's uncertain what prompted the action to remove Rodermund, 54, a former budget analyst and military veteran who headed the department as an interim chief for a year before being appointed in December 2003.

"I see it as a CEO tackling some issues head on and providing the adequate time to hear all sides. It doesn't necessarily mean there's any impropriety," said Supervisor Chris Norby.

The only comment made by the county spokeswoman was to a question never asked.

"It has nothing to do with the conflict of the election day with Rosh Hashanah," said Thomas Plunk.


Excerpts from the LA Times story are below.


His record has been marked by some controversies, most notably the March 2004 election when poll workers struggling with new voting machines gave thousands of voters incorrect access codes, causing the wrong ballots to appear on voting machines.

And in November 2004, the official results of a dozen Orange County elections were delayed more than a week because of slow counting of absentee ballots.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange), who was a county supervisor when Rodermund was assigned to the office, was concerned about the timing of Rodermund's leave.

"The registrar's office has obviously been plagued by systemic problems over the years," Spitzer said, "and it seems that in every election, some fundamental issue has arisen."

Spitzer said he worried that the turmoil in the registrar's office might affect the Nov. 8 election. Among the several ballot measures to be decided is one that would allow county firefighters to share in millions of dollars in public safety funds from Proposition 172.

"The special election is very critical," Spitzer said. "If the registrar's office is not completely squared away, it could open up special challenges in the court."

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