Up to 100K Los Angeles voters likely won't have ballots counted
As many as 100,000 independent voters in Los Angeles did not -- and most likely will not -- have their ballots counted in last week's Democratic presidential primary because of an unnecessarily complex system, inadequately trained poll workers and little effort by elections officials to notify voters of the proper procedures, according to news reports and voting-rights activists.
In a system that seemed tailor made to fail, more than half of the Decline to State voters who cast ballots last week in Los Angeles County have been effectively disenfranchised. Unlike every other county in California, LA County requires unaffiliated voters to fill in an extra bubble on their ballot clarifying whether they plan to vote in the Democratic or American Independent Party primaries. (California's Republican party bars independent voters from casting ballots in its primary.)
Counting the ballots would not change the outcome in LA County, where Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by more than 160,000 votes, but that is not the point, say outraged voters who are seething now that they've learned their exercise in democracy was fruitless.
"I was disenfranchised, and I am furious," wrote independent Steve Katinsky in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times. "This nonpartisan registered voting disaster makes Florida look like pikers in election screw-ups. To find out my vote did not count was a sudden and unexpected shock and is completely unacceptable."
Voting rights group the Courage Campaign has started a petition urging LA County registrar Dean Logan to initiate a hand-count of ballots. But elections officials say that may be impossible because the same optical-scan ballot was used for Democratic and American Independent primaries. As the Times explained:
In the American Independent contest, there were three candidates running, while the Democratic Party had eight. The bubbles for the first three candidates in each party were in the same position on the ballot, making it impossible to tell after the fact if a voter was voting Democratic or American Independent -- unless that person also filled in the bubble indicating party preference.
In addition to being the only county to require the extra party-identifying step, Los Angeles County is the only one not to print candidates names directly on the ballot, making a re-count virtually impossible.
"Logically we know that most of these ballots were Democratic, because the number of American Independent Party voters is very small," Secretary of State Debra Bowen told the Times. "But in a democracy we don't guess what the voter's intent was."
Although he insisted his office "takes the issue of voter enfranchisement very seriously," Logan seemed to blame the problems on the voters in a statement responding to the complaints.
It is important to note that while hundreds of thousands of voters across the state encountered new voting systems this election, voters in Los Angeles County were fortunate to be able to cast their ballots using InkaVote Plus, which has been in place for several elections. The manner in which cross over voting was presented in Los Angeles County was no different than that of the last three statewide primary elections (2002, 2004 and 2006). The voter instructions provided in the sample ballot booklets, which were mailed to all voters in the County, highlighted the steps to be taken by nonpartisan voters when voting a cross over ballot. Likewise, poll worker training materials and the actual vote recorder page instructions were consistent with past practice. Additionally, this office engaged in extensive voter outreach and education focused on cross over voting.
That the system was used before also shouldn't provide Logan much comfort or cover. The Sacramento Bee observed in an editorial that only 40 percent of independent voters' ballots were counted in those elections.
"It is outrageous that the county knew of this massive disenfranchisement and did not make changes," the paper said. "This calls for an investigation."
The instructions mailed to voters made passing reference to the need to fill in the extra bubble at the bottom of the pagelong document, but poll workers say they were not told of the special instructions before last Tuesday's election, which featured vastly higher turnout than any of the previous elections Logan mentioned because of the intensely contested presidential race.
"No mention was ever given about the requirement to fill in the dot for either party before choosing a particular candidate," Michael Nola, an LA county poll worker who attended two pre-election training sessions told the Times.
By mid-afternoon on election day, officials finally got around to informing him and other poll workers of the election requirement, but by then he and countless other independent voters already had cast their ballots, he said. "Both my wife and I lost our votes by this needless oversight."