O.C. turnout expected to soar as county becomes election hotspot

- The largest turnout for a midterm election in Orange County in recent memory is expected today, as the county plays a central role in Democrats' efforts to regain control of the U.S. House and voters weigh in on key local races.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley predicted turnout might reach 68 percent, easily besting the 2010 midterm election that was a wave election for Republicans and saw a turnout of 55 percent.

Turnout in the last midterm election in 2014 was 42 percent.

In-person turnout at the polls Tuesday was "a bit flat" at 5 percent, Kelley said. That matches the in-person turnout in 2014, Kelley said. In-person turnout on election day was higher in 2010 and 2016, he said.

But the Registrar received about 50,000 ballots in the mail Tuesday, the largest for a mid-term on election day in the county's history.

As of Monday night, 390,000 mail-in ballots had been turned in, and early in-person turnout is "running about 130 percent ahead of the presidential election in 2016," Kelley said.

"I've got a line out of the lobby tonight. It's going to be a long night tomorrow," Kelley said on Monday. "For a midterm I've never seen it like this. We'd have to go back a long way to be close to that."

About 165,000 Republicans have turned in mail-in ballots and 128,000 Democrats have turned in absentee ballots, Kelley said. About 92,000 no-party-preference voters have turned in ballots.

UC Irvine political science professor Louis DeSipio told City News Service he only had "anecdotal" evidence, but noted that he has seen a much higher level of engagement among younger voters, who traditionally are the most apathetic.

"I've been amazed at it all week on campus," DeSipio said. "The lines have been 45 minutes to an hour long (to vote), nicely snaking around the campus."

DeSipio added, "I sense more students are volunteering, too. They're active in recruiting people, and they know that an investment in labor could pay off with a job or internship some day. There's definitely more activity than four years ago or eight years ago."

Such youth involvement could be particularly influential in one of the county's contested congressional races. Democratic businessman Harley Rouda has targeted younger voters as he needs to overcome about a 9-point registration disadvantage for Democrats in the 45th District, where he's trying to unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach.

"Rohrabacher has always been a lightning rod, but he has a core of voters who will turn out for him no matter what," DeSipio said. "To match his numbers you need other people who don't traditionally vote."

Orange County will draw much attention on election night as the chances for the Democratic Party to win back a majority in the House of Representatives might come down to the results in four competitive local races, including the Rouda-Rohrabacher contest.

Voters will also be making choices in a multitude of races from water district boards to mayors. Voters will also decide a multitude of measures, including a minimum-wage standard for hospitality industry jobs in Anaheim that the Walt Disney Co. has opposed, and which has led to a legal question of whether Disney will even be required to abide by the measure.

Another election of great interest is the showdown between Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who are competing for the county's top prosecutor job.

Spitzer was once considered next in line to succeed Rackauckas, who was grooming him to take over until the two had a public falling out in 2010 when Rackauckas fired him.

The two have traded allegations of corruption and ethical lapses ever since.

Rackauckas, who was elected in 1998, is serving his fourth term. He has been rocked by allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in recent years, most notably in the case against Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county's history.

Rackauckas' office was booted off the prosecution of Dekraai when a judge found outrageous governmental misconduct in the handling of jailhouse informants in Dekraai's case. Dekraai, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when an Orange County Superior Court judge removed the death sentence as an option due to continued allegations of misuse of jailhouse snitches.

Now Rackauckas' office is fighting another legal battle involving allegations of misconduct in the prosecution of Josh Waring, the son of a former "Real Housewives of Orange County," who is charged with attempted murder. An Orange County sheriff's contractor has acknowledged in the Waring
case that a glitch in an upgrade of software led authorities to improperly record phone calls of jail inmates to their attorneys.

Rackauckas defends his work as D.A., highlighting what he calls aggressive efforts by his office to crack down on gang members and human traffickers and pioneering advancements in the use of DNA evidence in criminal prosecutions.

Spitzer touts his career in public service, serving not just as a county supervisor and a prosecutor, but also spending time in the state Assembly and as a school teacher and school board member. He said wants to restore "faith and trust in our law enforcement and justice system."

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