California Voter Foundation Logo

Voter Engagement

VBM study

Orange County Profile

    The Orange County Registrar of Voters' office is located at     1300 South Grand, Building C in an industrial area of Santa     Ana.

Orange County is home to nearly two million eligible California voters and 1.4 million registered voters, making it the third most populous county in California, after Los Angeles and San Diego. It is representative of a “large-size” California county.


  • Number of precincts: 1,977

  • Number of eligible voters: 1,947,704 (as of April 2014)

  • Number of registered voters: 1,399,897 (as of April 2014 - at time of Nov. 2012 election: 1,683,001)

  • Votes cast Nov. 2012: 1,133,204

  • Number of votes cast by VBM ballot: 573,657 (1)

  • Percentage cast by VBM ballot: 51%

Orange uses the DFM election management system and Pitney Bowes’ ballot processing equipment. While much of the comings and goings of Orange’s VBM ballots are automated, the signature verification process itself is not. This is because the county’s registrar of voters, Neal Kelley, has found manual verification to be more efficient. Kelley has made automation a priority since he became registrar in 2006. His innovations have included a move to set up a post office within his own office to facilitate faster VBM balloting.

Ballot Return Method

Most Orange County VBM voters return their VBM ballots through the US Postal Service (80%), however nearly 20 percent opted to return their VBM ballots at a polling place in the November 2012 election. While this was the smallest percentage among the three counties studied, it still represents a significant portion of the VBM voters. Another possible reason why this number is lower compared to the other two counties studied is because Orange County does not offer ballot drop-off sites other than its office and county polling places (though in large turnout elections the county does set up early voting locations, mostly at city halls, utilizing its electronic voting machines).

Uncounted VBM Ballots

Of all the VBM ballots that were received in the November 2012 statewide election, 3,362 (0.6%) were not counted.

An analysis of Orange County’s unsuccessful VBM ballots received in November 2012, June 2012, November 2010 and November 2008 show that, on average, unsuccessful VBM ballots comprise 0.7 percent of all VBM ballots cast in Orange County.

The top three reasons why Orange County VBM ballots do not get counted are: they are received too late to count (65%); there is no signature on the VBM envelope (29%); and the signature on the envelope does not compare to the signature on file (6%). These three reasons account for 99 percent of the unsuccessful VBM ballots in Orange County.

County Innovations

Orange County is ahead of the curve when it comes to tracking election mail, and uses a software product called "Track My Mail" to provide voters with a level of detail about the movement of their VBM ballots through the US Postal Service system that is currently unavailable to voters in most other counties. For example, the county can tell a voter exactly when his mail carrier took possession of his ballot from the sorting facility, and can even produce a digital image of the voter's ballot.

The Orange County Registrar of Voters office has a state-of-the-art website (at that serves not only voters, but also polling place workers, candidates, the news media and others interested in elections in the county. The site features an all-in-one voter lookup tool that includes vote-by-mail status, the dates a VBM ballot was issued and received, whether it was accepted or not, as well as live chat support during business hours, a variety of community outreach and engagement materials, and even a short documentary film about the elections process in the county.

    Orange County's Mobile Voting Unit, or MVU, is stored inside a     warehouse on the same premises as the county election office.

Orange County has developed and maintains a Mobile Voting Unit to increase engagement with voters in the county, complete with large trucks and vehicles wrapped with full-sized, eye-catching graphics that encourage participation in the elections process. During a typical election year, the Registrar's office uses the Mobile Voting Unit to conduct about 40 voter outreach events. The truck houses an early voting station and educational displays, and also functions as a backdrop and support for lighting at music-related events focused on college-age voters.

Orange County recently undertook a plain language review of the instructions sent to VBM voters with their ballots, and made a number of changes to improve readability and simplify the material with voters in mind. For example, where the instructions used to include the phrase "Ensure the secrecy of your ballot", they now advise voters to simply "Keep it private". The focus of the instructions has changed from telling voters what not to do, to telling them what they should do. For example, instead of "DO NOT fill in this box unless you vote for a qualified write-in candidate", the instructions now say, "Leave this box empty, unless you want to vote for a qualified write-in candidate."

About the Registrar

    Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley in front of his     office's public counter.

Neal Kelley has served as Orange County Registrar of Voters since being appointed to the position in April 2006, and prior to that served for two years as Chief Deputy Registrar of Voters.

The county benefits from Kelley's professional background in business administration and corporate development. A strong customer service orientation and experience with volume production contribute to his success in serving Orange County's 1.6 million voters.




(1) This number was reported to CVF by the county and is slightly lower than the official number in the Secretary of State’s certified results, 581,186, since that figure includes early voting ballots cast on electronic voting machines and not through the vote-by-mail system.


Back to the Table of Contents


Site Map | Privacy Policy | About

This page was first published on July 13, 2014 | Last updated on August 29, 2014
Copyright California Voter Foundation, All Rights Reserved.