In Focus This Week - Exit Interview, Orange County’s Neal Kelley retires

By M. Mindy Moretti,
March 10, 2022


 Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley is a bit of a Renaissance man.

Before joining the county as chief deputy registrar, Kelley worked in a variety of fields including retail, law enforcement and he’d served as an adjunct professor with Riverside Community College’s Business Administration Department.

Kelley was hired as chief deputy registrar in 2004, got appointed acting registrar the following year and was named to the position permanently in 2006. He the longest serving Orange County election official and one of the most senior—in experience, not age!—election officials California.

“Neal Kelley has been a model and a courageous spokesperson for thoughtful reform. Under his leadership, Orange County‘s election office has become not only state of the art, but well ahead of the game. It’s unfortunate he’s leaving, but I wish him well,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber.

According to the Orange County Register, Kelley has overseen 85 elections encompassing more than 20 million ballots.

Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation said her first experience with Kelley was in 2013, when the CVF was researching the vote-by-mail ballot process and the problem of rejected ballots. Alexander said she could see first-hand how his experience in retail sales was translating into more efficient and effective election administration for Orange County voters. His contributions to CVF’s 2014 report, “Improving California’s Vote-by-Mail Process:  A Three-County Study” helped policymakers understand the need to adopt stronger laws to address weaknesses in California’s mail balloting process, which today is considered a model among the states.

“He is one of those people who does not accept ‘good enough’ and is always looking for a better way,” Alexander said. “Voting in California has evolved tremendously during Neal’s tenure, with expanded use of vote-by-mail and a shift away from neighborhood polling places open a single day toward county-wide vote centers open multiple days. He has guided this transition smoothly in Orange County and set an incredible example for others in the election community and beyond about how to navigate challenging changes and attitudes with grace, kindness and good humor.” (Full Story)