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Hiring of registrar gets scrutiny -- Attorney contesting Chula Vista election makes issue of Vu recruitment

Union Tribune (2015-04-11) Greg Moran

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San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu at Interfaith Community Services in Escondido.
San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu at Interfaith Community Services in Escondido. Gary Warth

Just weeks after leaving his job after three controversy-filled years as the elections director in Ohio’s largest county, Michael Vu got a new job – with a $10,000 raise – in San Diego County as the assistant registrar.

How Vu, arguably the most controversial elections official in the country in 2007, ended up with a job halfway across the country just six weeks after the end of his tumultuous tenure in Cuyahoga County has always been a bit of a mystery.

In a recent deposition taken as part of the challenge to a City Council race in Chula Vista, Vu offered a limited recollection about how he ended up in San Diego.

He never sought out the job, he testified. Instead of applying, he said he got a phone call out of the blue from a county official, who had heard Vu’s name from another elections official in Los Angeles – who used to work in San Diego.

He said he believed he submitted a resume, and said he might have filled out a job application, but wasn’t sure if he did. And he said he couldn’t recall, eight years later, whether he had people submit letters of reference or recommendation on his behalf.

Vu’s answers came under questioning from John Moot, a lawyer who has filed a challenge to the outcome of the Chula Vista race that centers on a dozen ballots Vu that did not count. In the race, Councilman John Mc Cann narrowly defeated challenger Steve Padilla by two votes.

Moot has argued that Vu abused his discretion as the registrar in deciding not to count the ballots, which were provisional and mail ballots submitted by registered Chula Vista voters. Vu disqualified them because the voters put down an address that was a mailing or business address that did not match the address on file.

While the challenge focuses largely on technical issues of election law, Moot has raised Vu’s history as the elections chief in Ohio, and the testimony about how he got a job in San Diego, as an issue in the case.

Vu’s spotty recall and vague answers under oath contribute to a “lack objective credibility,” Moot argued in court papers. And determining credibility should be a factor that Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon weighs in weighing whether or not Vu abused his discretion, Moot says.

Vu’s tenure in Ohio included the 2004 presidential election and the 2006 primary. Both were troubled.

Voting rights groups charged that Vu suppressed votes in 2004 by disqualifying provisional ballots and losing hundreds of registrations so people couldn’t vote. Later, two high-ranking supervisors in the elections office were convicted of rigging a recount by selecting precincts to count, in order to avoid a more labor intensive recount of all ballots.

The 2006 primary was also marred by insufficient poll workers who were not properly trained and new optical reading scanner for absentee ballots that didn’t work, resulting in a delayed count. A special panel formed to examine the election mishaps laid the blame on Vu and his staff.

The election that fall went off without a hitch, but Vu was forced to resign shortly after. It was then, he recalled in his deposition, that he got a call from San Diego.

At the time the county was looking for an assistant registrar, and he got a call from then-Registar Mikel Haas.

Vu said that Haas got his name from Conny Mc Cormack, a former San Diego registrar who at the time was the registrar in Los Angeles County. She confirmed in a phone interview that she contacted Hass about Vu, whom she said she knew professionally. “Among the people I mentioned he might want to look at was Mike Vu,” she said.

Vu testified that he interviewed with Hass and was candid about his history in Ohio, which did not seem to be an issue for Haas.

“Did Mikel Haas have any discussions with you about your prior employment and how they may affect your prospects with the San Diego County (Registrar of Voters)?” Moot asked.

“I don’t recall that there was,” Vu responded.

Throughout his testimony about his job, Vu uses the phrase “I don’t recall” or a variant numerous times, which Moot said reflects on his credibility.

“If you’re not able to explain how you got your job today, and testify you don’t recall and an instance you would expect you could recollect, that reflects on your current ability to testify accurately,” Moot said after the hearing.

U-T Watchdog asked the county before Vu’s deposition for all correspondence and emails related to Vu’s 2007 hiring, and was told there were none. Communications Director Michael Workman confirmed that Vu’s name was referred to Haas by another registrar.

A decision on the election challenge is expected on Monday.

© Copyright 2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved.


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Title Hiring of registrar gets scrutiny -- Attorney contesting Chula Vista election makes issue of Vu recruitment
Publisher Union Tribune
Author Greg Moran
Pub Date 2015-04-11
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Note Features Michael Vu
Keywords Election Integrity
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Topic revision: r1 - 25 Jun 2016, RaymondLutz
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