North County Times, San Diego / County

April 11, 2007


San Diego County hires Vu as assistant registrar


By: GIG CONAUGHTON - Staff Writer


SAN DIEGO -- San Diego County officials said Wednesday that they had hired former Cuyahoga County, Ohio elections Chief Michael Vu as assistant registrar of voters.


Vu, 30, resigned as executive director of Cuyahoga County's elections board in February after 3 1/2 years.


San Diego County officials declined to make Vu available for an interview Wednesday. However, Vu was quoted in previous interviews as saying it was his decision to resign, based upon his belief that the Cuyahoga board wanted new leadership.


Vu was praised by elections board officials in Ohio as successfully overseeing election changes that led to a November 2006 general election that had few problems.


But Vu also gained national notoriety, and the characterization of "embattled," as the Ohio county -- a "swing state" in national elections -- struggled with a switch to electronic voting, and two elections workers were convicted for "rigging" a 2004 elections recount.


Mikel Haas, who was San Diego County's registrar of voters until being promoted last month to become the county's director of community services, said Wednesday that the county immediately moved to contact Vu when he became available and felt lucky to hire him.


Haas said that Vu was specifically hired to be assistant registrar, and that county officials were still searching for a permanent registrar. Retired Riverside County Registrar Mischelle Townsend was named San Diego County's interim director last week.


The county had been without an assistant registrar for many months.


"We needed an assistant registrar," Haas said, "and to get someone with this kind of experience in that size of jurisdiction (nearly 1 million voters), with both punch card ballots and moving to electronic voting -- he was a natural."


Haas said that Vu would be paid $130,000 a year.


The news of Vu's hiring drew immediate disapproval and bewilderment from a small number of critics who have sharply criticized San Diego County's handling of recent elections and its own switch to electronic "touch-screen" computers.


"I'm disappointed, I think San Diego voters deserve better than this," Carlsbad attorney Ken Simpkins said.


Simpkins unsuccessfully sued Haas, as county registrar, over how to count paper ballots, and to force the county to stock enough paper ballots at polling places to cover the county's 1.3 million voters in November.


"I don't know why Mr. Vu resigned, but like I said, San Diego voters deserve better," Simpkins said. "Out of all the qualified people it's surprising that they end up choosing somebody with the reputation that (Vu's) got."


Haas said Vu resigned for personal reasons and had family living on the West Coast.


He said Vu had been an elections officer for a decade, working in Salt Lake City, Utah, before taking over in Cuyahoga County.


Cuyahoga County was a "battleground" for elections officials because it was a swing state and routinely came under national scrutiny that magnified any problems that occurred, Haas said.


"(Vu) worked under a crucible there," Haas said. "Try being an election official in the largest county in a swing state during a presidential election. He was certainly battle-tested."


Among the problems that gained national notoriety during Vu's Ohio tenure, a federal judge in Cleveland in November's elections ordered 16 Cuyahoga County polling stations to stay open 90 minutes after the 7:30 p.m. closing time because of voting machine problems and long wait lines for voters -- up to 14 hours. In January, a court convicted two elections workers of illegally rigging the 2004 presidential election recount so they could avoid a more complete review of votes.


Vu defended the workers, saying they had followed longtime procedures and done nothing wrong.


-- Contact staff writer Gig Conaughton at (760) 739-6696 or


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Comments On This Story


Note: Comments reflect the views of readers and not necessarily those of the North County Times or its staff.


Mark wrote on April 12, 2007 5:54 PM:"In the story about San Diego hiring Assistant Registrar Michael Vu, with respect to the elections officials convicted of rigging elections in Ohio, Gig Conaughton wrote, "Vu defended the workers, saying they had followed longtime procedures and done nothing wrong." Well, they were convicted of breaking the law. It doesn't really matter if you've broken the law for the first time or been doing it for twenty or thirty years. And they were under Michael Vu's supervision. How strange that the law and order people in San Diego would condone hiring somebody who sees nothing wrong with breaking election laws, to be our Assistant Registrar. Or maybe it isn't strange at all. There have been two complaints against Mikel Haas filed with Secretary of State Debra Bowen, for elections irregularities. In 2006, in Superior Court, County Counsel for Mikel Haas admitted that he had done the same thing that the Ohio pollworkers were convicted of. He had not selected the precincts for the mandatory recount randomly, as required by law. For some reason the judge, rather than penalizing Haas as he would any other lawbreaker, merely suggested that Haas consider obeying the law. So we now have two of a kind--scofflaws both, running our elections. Well, what else would anyone expect of Enron-by-the-Bay? "


This is scarry wrote on April 12, 2007 7:44 PM:"You've got the Godmother of e-voting in the U.S., Mischelle Townsend bringing in the Godfather of e-voting corruption, Michael Vu, to a county that already has one of the slimiest political reputations of any city. Do people not think that now that the county has paid all of Mr. Vu's moving expenses and is likely is some kind of arrangement to assist him in home sale and purchase arrangements, that @3 will be good enough for the Godfather? Well, the county WILL hold a recruitment, but of course, Mr. Vu will be knighted as the new Registrar of Voters by Mr. Haas and Ms. Townsend. Now THAT is a 3-ring circus, and a terminal one for the voters of San Diego county. The county should rescind its offer of employment immediately and gird for the lawsuit that would be sure to come. But whatever price, it is not too high NOT to have Mr. Vu take over from Ms. Townsend. Whatever happened to honesty and integrity in government?"


Cameraman wrote on April 13, 2007 4:42 AM:"Michael Vu and his two elections staff who were just sentenced to 18 months jail in Ohio all appear in the amazing HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy". ..."


Jesse wrote on April 15, 2007 6:43 PM:"Dear. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, I voted for you on your integrity concerning voting issues it seems that Michael Vu has shown up in my voting registrar office in San Diego County. If it is possible could your office look into the hiring of Mr. Vu and make sure that there were not any laws violated in his hiring, all necessary disclosures were included, and all applications were correctly filled out not leaving past employment information. I do not believe that Michael Vu is the best qualified candidate for his new position. Thank you, Jesse "