Longtime Registrar Conny McCormack Retires

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Today is Los Angeles County Registrar Conny McCormack's last day on the job. For more than a dozen years, McCormack has printed and counted more ballots from more voters than any local elections official in the country. She looks back with KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde.

Kitty Felde: Conny McCormack first served as registrar of voters in Dallas, then San Diego, and finally, L.A. County – a total of 26 years.

Conny McCormack: I've been a registrar of voters so long, it's been most of my adult life.

Felde: A lot of changes in L.A. County from the time you started. What's the biggest?

McCormack: Really, new technology. I've brought so much new technology in the last 12 years, both on the recorder side and on the election side, and we think we've done it in a way that people could make it understandable, and not such change that there was a period of failure. We didn't have, we really didn't have that, and so I'm very proud of that.

Felde: As you think back, election night particularly, I mean, is there any one election night that sticks out more than others?

McCormack: I think it would have to be the November 2000 election. I mean, that's the election that the whole country was focused on. It was the closest presidential election in over a hundred years, and maybe ever, and the popular vote was going back and forth even after the electoral vote seemed to be determined, although we all know that took 35 more days. But, so that was an interesting night, as you can–

Felde: But wait a minute. And you, I understand, had to inform Dan Rather of that fact.

McCormack: Well actually, Voter News Service. I had an inside phone number because it was everybody, all night long, was, all the newscasts, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, they were all out there making their comments, and I called an inside number at 3 a.m. on the east coast, which, Voter News Service, and said "You know, we still have about a million ballots to count here in L.A. County, and you know, we're very Democratic here in terms of what the rest of the votes had looked like throughout the evening. So yes, like two seconds later, it was "This just in from L.A.: It looks like Al Gore's gonna win the popular vote."

But, those kind of moments, it's just interesting because it's a part of the history of ballot counting in this country. I'd like to make sure the voters know that we're an open process. They can come down and watch the process, they can watch the testing of the voting equipment, they can go and observe at the polling places, they can be a poll worker. I think sometimes people think it's some serious, secret, mysterious, and it's not, and I think a lot of people would have their confidence raised if they went down to their local election office. If they became a poll worker and found out on the ground level what it's like. So I invite people to do that.

Felde: You should know better. Your wedding date is what? Your anniversary date is what?

McCormack: I know! October 29th.

Felde: Um, which sort of creates problems every four years.

McCormack: Actually, it's every year almost. As you know, in California, every November we have an election. I got married in Dallas, Texas on the off year in 1983. Our first anniversary was a presidential election, and we didn't get to go out at all. I mean, midnight, I'm still at work, and my husband said, "This is our first wedding anniversary!" So now, our 25th is in 2008, and I'm planning on spending it with my husband, (laughs) and not working 12 hours a day.

Felde: Now, is that the real reason you're retiring?

McCormack: (laughs) It's not the real reason, but it's certainly a factor.

Felde: Well why did you decide to step away form this job, such a high visibility position?

McCormack: You know, I think you'll find that a lot of election officials around the country feel a lot of stress, with all the criticism, and all of the allegations of problems, and machines, and without any facts to back them up. And this bombardment of criticism, and angst, and it used to be the emotions in elections were with the candidates, which is where it should be. I mean, they're running out there, and election administration, everyone trusted it, it was, this is the process.

And then, it started bleeding, the emotion started bleeding into the process starting in 2000. And I think it's accelerated. And the constant change in secretaries of state, the constant change in voting equipment. I just said, "You know, I've done six presidential elections, I've done this work for 26 years. I want to stay in the election business. I want to do some election consulting. I've been approached, and do some research so that we have some fact-based ways to make decisions in elections, and take some of this emotion out of it. And I'm just ready for a change.

Felde: Well where are you going to be the night of February 5th?

McCormack: With my feet up, in front of the TV, watching it like all of the other people who want to know what's going on, and without knowing what exactly's going on in my office. More national perspective, and I hope with slippers on at 3 o'clock in the morning instead of having been up for 26 hours.

Felde: Conny McCormack recruited her replacement from Seattle's elections office. It'll be up to the Board of the Supervisors to decide if Dean Logan will be her permanent replacement.