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 firstname.lastname@example.org