Until recently, even the most politically engaged Americans have paid little attention to registrars of voters – those under-the-radar county administrators who make sure that voter rolls are up to date and who oversee ballot counting. It’s a detailed and largely thankless task.
That changed after 2020, however, when Donald Trump tried to overturn the presidential election based on bogus claims of vote rigging. Election officials suddenly were on the hot seat – and they became the last line of defense against attacks on the legitimacy of elections.
The 2020 fracas serves as a stark reminder that, ultimately, our democratic systems rests on the professionalism, nonpartisanship and integrity of those officials who administer our elections. Fortunately, Orange County’s election system has operated like clockwork – a testament to the leadership of Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.
Kelley recently announced his upcoming retirement after 17 years, effective in March. County CEO Frank Kim faces a tough task filling Kelley’s shoes, given that he managed the county’s voting systems without incident.
When it comes to managing elections, nothing speaks better of a registrar than a vote of confidence from leaders of both parties. Reporters had no trouble finding Republicans and Democrats who sang Kelley’s praises. In the past, we might have shrugged at such plaudits – but in 2021 that’s a refreshingly big deal.
We appreciate his efforts modernizing the office and making it easier for Orange County residents to cast their ballots any way that they choose. In 2019, Kelley implemented a voting system that mails ballots to everyone, but includes vote centers for those who prefer to vote in person – along with an electronic system that lets voters monitor their ballots.
One need only visit the office’s website to appreciate its user-friendly nature – something that’s appreciated when monitoring election-night results during nail-biter ballot contests. County leaders also widely praise Kelley for his commitment to transparency and for his statewide advocacy for election-related reforms.
We wish Kelley the best – and appreciate that none of us have had to worry about the integrity of local elections under his leadership.