Thursday, February 28, 2008

Joint Legislative Hearing March 7 in LA to review Primary election problems

Next Friday, March 7, three legislative committees will hold a joint hearing in Los Angeles to review the problems faced by California voters at the 2008 Presidential Primary election, including the "double bubble" fiasco in Los Angeles.

The hearing is being organized by the State Senate Elections Committee, the Assembly Elections Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intregrity of Elections. The chairs of those committees (Senator Ron Calderon, Assemblyman Curren Price and Senator Jenny Oropeza) will be hearing from a number of witnesses, including former Los Angeles Registrar of Voters Conny McCormack, Acting Los Angeles Registrar of Voters Dean Logan, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Contra Costa County's Registrar of Voters Steve Weir, representatives from the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, and me. There will also be an opportunity for public comment.

The hearing will take place from 1-4 p.m. in the Auditorium of the Ronald Reagan Building located at 300 South Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. I'm hoping there will be a visual or audio live webcast and if one becomes available I'll link to it from my blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

LA Supervisors ask for full accounting of double bubble trouble

Yesterday at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' hearing, Acting Registrar of Voters Dean Logan presented the Board with his plan for counting the votes from decline-to-state voters on ballots that did not include the second mark indicating the party preference. Mr. Logan reported to the board of his plans to count the votes where voter intent could be accurately determined because either the candidate ballot position was not shared by more than one candidate, or the pollbook shows that all the Decline-to-state voters in the precinct voted with the same party.

As I pointed out in yesterday's blog post, this solution, while an improvement, falls short of what the Secretary of State requested, which is a full accounting of all of the decline-to-state ballots. Fortunately, Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Yvonne Burke are on top of the situation.

At yesterday's hearing they insisted that Mr. Logan provide a full accounting of all of the votes that are going uncounted, according to this article by Alison Hewitt in today's Pasadena Star News. Here's the relevant excerpt:


Supervisors Yvonne Burke and Yaroslavsky asked that Logan also tally the final number of votes that could not be counted, "so the public knows what the damage was," Yaroslavsky said. Burke requested that those figures be broken down by congressional district.

"(This) would mean that 175,000 out of the 200,000 independent voters who came to the polls will have been counted, and probably more," Yaroslavsky said. "I am glad that we're not using this system ever again."


Kudos to Supervisors Burke and Yaroslavsky for pushing for a full accounting of this fiasco. Without it, there will be lingering questions and doubts, which will serve to feed conspiracy theories and foment distrust of the elections department. To be fully transparent and accountable the county would, and should also tally the votes that they cannot count with one hundred percent accuracy.

ALL of the votes can be counted, after all, but they may not be able to be included in the certified results because they can't be counted with one hundred percent accuracy. They can, however, be counted with about 98 percent accuracy. For example, let's say there are 18,000 votes that cannot be counted with one hundred percent accuracy. The registrar of voters could still count them and release results that say: "8,000 of these votes would have gone for either Barack Obama or Mad Max Riekse; 8,000 would have gone for either Hillary Clinton or Don Grundmann; and 2,000 would have gone for John Edwards or Diane Beall Templin". Then the public can review those results and come to their own conclusions about whether they would have had an impact on the delegate count or not. The other advantage of doing this is that all the voters who participated would see their votes show up someplace -- maybe not in the certified results, but at least show up in some on-the-record way.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

LA Registrar informs Board, SoS of his vote-counting plans

Yesterday Los Angeles County's Acting Registrar of Voters Dean Logan sent this letter to Secretary of State Debra Bowen informing her of his plans to comply with requests by Bowen as well as the county's Board of Supervisors to count as many of the "double bubble" votes as can be accurately counted. Mr. Logan has also sought and received legal analysis from the Los Angeles County Counsel's office.

This is a big improvement over where the situation was two weeks ago, when Mr. Logan informed the Board of Supervisors that he would not count the votes on ballots where "Decline to state" (DTS) voters marked the presidential candidate choice but failed to mark the party choice on the ballot. Initially he said these votes could not be accurately counted because some American Independent Party candidates' ballot positions overlap with Democratic Party candidates' positions. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky pointed that for many of the ballots there is a choice made outside of the overlap so the voter's intent can be accurately determined.

In her letter to Mr. Logan, Secretary of State Debra Bowen requested the pollbooks that pollworkers mark to indicate DTS voters' crossover preferences can also be consulted to accurately count some of the votes in question. For example, if the pollbook in a precinct shows that all the DTS voters in that precinct requested a Democratic ballot, the votes from that precinct can be counted toward the Democratic candidates.

Although Mr. Logan states in his letter that he believes the criteria he will use to count the votes in question meet the objectives outlined in the Secretary of State's letter, his plan, at least as it is outlined in his letter to Secretary Bowen, falls short of one of her requests. The Secretary of State also requested that the registrar determine the number of ballots, on a precinct-by-precinct basis, where voters correctly filled in both bubbles, only filled in the presidential candidate bubble, or filled in neither bubbles.

Mr. Logan's decision to count as many votes as he possibly can is a step in the right direction; however, the public is entited to a full accounting of the scope of this fiasco, and deserves to know how many votes will not be counted.

Congratulations to Rick Jacobs and the folks at the Courage Campaign for all of their hard work on this issue -- their grassroots organizing efforts have been incredibly successful and effective.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Double Bubble" Forum archive, SoS letter to LA, and new LA Times story

An archive of the Forum show on KQED last Friday covering the "Double Bubble" fiasco in Los Angeles is available online. Last Thursday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen sent this letter to LA Registrar Dean Logan requesting that he use the pollbook sign-in information to count the decline-to-state votes to the best of his ability. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times featured this story by Richard Paddock which further investigates the situation. Excerpts are below.


Six years ago, Los Angeles County began using a ballot for nonpartisan voters that had a little-noticed design flaw. Confusion over how to mark the ballot, critics say, caused tens of thousands of votes to go uncounted in three elections between 2002 and 2006.

At the time, election officials knew that some votes were not being counted but saw no need to make changes. After all, the missing votes went unnoticed in the three primary elections and no one complained.

That all changed with the Feb. 5 presidential primary.

Just before election day, a grass-roots advocacy group called the Courage Campaign realized that the ballot was defective because it required nonpartisans wanting to vote in a party primary to mark an extra bubble designating which party they were choosing.


Election officials say that a primary is the most complex kind of election. The number of political parties -- six on Feb. 5 -- means a multiplicity of ballots. Crossover voting that allows nonpartisans to vote in certain party primaries can make organizing the vote even more complicated.

"Election officials will tell you they despise these elections," said former L.A. County Registrar Conny McCormack, who retired in January, a month before the vote. "Voters don't understand them, and poll workers don't understand them."

There are other peculiarities about L.A. County's election system that set it apart.

It is the only county in California to use the InkaVote Plus system, in which voters darken bubbles on their ballot with a special InkaVote pen.

The names of the candidates are listed in the "vote recorder" book in the polling booth but are not printed on the ballot itself. The ballot contains only numbers representing the candidates and the bubbles where voters mark their choices.


At first, election officials blamed voters for not reading the instructions carefully.

Paul Drugan, Logan's executive assistant, said election officials had foreseen the problem months earlier and had been educating voters about the requirement. He dismissed the concerns of anxious voters who were worried that their ballots would not count.

"Is it a perfect system?" he asked. "No, it is not. Elections are an imperfect beast."

Since then, the registrar's office has become more contrite.

Logan said the ballot design makes it difficult to determine voters' intent but that his office is investigating ways to count the disqualified votes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

LA vote counting issues on KQED's "Forum" this morning

KQED's Forum program will feature a discussion this morning about the LA vote counting situation. I'll be on it along with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, plus Steve Weir and Rick Hasen. It's broadcast in the San Francisco Bay Area at 88.5 FM and live online.

Here's the blurb from KQED's web site:

Forum, with guest host Scott Shafer

California Counts -- Almost one million votes from California's Super Tuesday primary remain to be counted. We look at how the state's vote counting system fared in the primary. Guests include Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting and applying the responsible use of technology to improve the democratic process; Steve Weir, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials; Rick Hasen, William H. Hannon distinguished professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles; and Debra Bowen, California's secretary of state.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

LA Times editorial on the "double bubble" trouble

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times featured an excellent editorial about the county's "double bubble trouble", and concluded that the county needs a new ballot design. It is featured below.


And to think we made fun of Florida.

As of today, we take back the jeers about hanging chads and the unkind comments about inept voters befuddled by butterfly ballots. Somehow it doesn't seem as funny when it happens at home -- voting irregularities in Los Angeles County will disqualify the ballots of thousands of people who went to the polls on Super Tuesday.

In 2000, Florida voters flubbed their choices for president because they were confronted with a ballot whose design was new to them. But that's not the case here. L.A. County officials have long used a ballot whose design was known to consistently disenfranchise unaffiliated voters. They simply did nothing about it.

Nonpartisan voters last week could cast ballots for Democratic or American Independent party candidates in the presidential primary, but to do so, they had to ink in an extra bubble choosing a party. Only registered Republicans could participate in that party's primary. Thousands of unaffiliated voters did not know about the bubble, and about half of the 189,000 ballots cast by "decline to state" voters countywide didn't have it marked. As a result, many of those votes won't count (at least in the presidential race; their votes for ballot measures were still valid).

Election officials are calling this a glitch, but the outcome was entirely foreseeable. In fact, it has happened before. In the March 2004 election, 44% of crossover ballots were unusable, and in June 2006, it was 42%. With numbers this high, the county registrar should have investigated this matter long before now.

This election season is the most exciting in decades. The race to determine whether the Democratic presidential nomination will go to the first woman or the first African American has drawn voters to polls and caucuses in record numbers, and voters in Los Angeles County were no exception.

Under any circumstances, it's troubling to see a vote go uncounted; it's especially so when history is being made.

The county has taken a sample of the decline-to-state ballots in 1% of local precincts, and it estimates that roughly 49,500 votes ultimately cannot be counted, so most likely they will never be included in the candidates' vote tallies. Could they have affected the outcome of Super Tuesday? Could they have changed the delegate count? Acting County Registrar Dean Logan says no; the margins of victory were too large. Maybe so, but this hasn't been a process designed to instill confidence within the electorate. The county needs to produce a new ballot design before the next election.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Decline-to-state voters' ballots in L.A. may get counted

Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors questioned Acting Registrar of Voters Dean Logan about the report his office issued Monday, which concluded that an estimated 49,500 votes from decline-to-state voters would go uncounted. According to this story in the San Francisco Chronicle by Joe Garofoli, LA election officials will attempt to tally those ballots after all. According to the Chronicle, "Logan's next step after consulting with his staff and legal officials is creating a process to determine how many ballots to review and then figure whom those voters were supporting. His deadline is March 4, when the California vote must be certified."

The Daily Breeze also covered yesterday's meeting. That story is below. Transcripts of LA County Supervisors' meetings are available online within 24-48 hours of the meeting.


At least some of the estimated 49,500 uncounted, nonpartisan ballots from the Feb. 5 primary election could be tallied after all, Acting Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan told county supervisors Tuesday.

In a report released Monday, Logan said it would be "impossible to determine with certainty for which candidate the voter intended to vote" but altered his view when questioned by the county board Tuesday afternoon.

Voters who had registered nonpartisan could request an American Independent or Democratic ballot but were told they also had to mark on the ballot which party they were voting for, and many forgot to make that additional mark.

The ballot bubbles for the American Independent and the Democratic guides overlapped on slots 8 through 10, meaning it would be unclear which candidate nonpartisan voters chose if they did not also indicate which party's primary they were voting in.

However, the Democratic ballot included eight choices and the American Independent only three, meaning they did not overlap for slots 11 through 15 - notably including the slots for Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky pointed out that even if a ballot did not note which party the voter meant to select, if voters marked between slots 11 and 15, their choices were clear.

"Of those that don't fall into that Never-Never Land, why wouldn't we be able to identify at least those ... and count the ones that are countable? It may be a pain in the butt to do it, and it may be costly, but it seems to me that it's doable," Yaroslavsky said. "To say out of the box that we're not even going to try, that angers people. It angers me, and I'm not one of the aggrieved voters."

Initially, Logan said that the fact that the Republican Party's ballot guide included slots 8 through 18 and that a voter could have wandered into the wrong voting booth by accident would mean that there was still ambiguity, but his objection was rejected by Yaroslavsky.

"Hypothetically, it's possible, but it's not reasonable," he said.

The board directed Logan to see if there is a way to tally the uncounted votes before the results are certified.

LA County Registrar's report estimates 49,500 presidential votes will go uncounted

Last week, millions of Californians participated in the Presidential primary election. Excitement was extremely high, for this was the first time in a generation that California voters would have a say in selecting the political parties' nominees for president.

Nearly 20 percent of California's 15 million registered voters are independent, and unaffiliated with any party. In this election, however, the Democratic Party allowed independents to vote in its primary election. In Los Angeles, nearly 190,000 independent voters did so. Unfortunately, at least 49,500 of those voters will not have their votes counted, according to this report released Monday by Dean Logan, Acting Registrar of Voters for Los Angeles County.

It turns out that in LA county independents, who are also known as "decline-to-state" voters, have to jump through an extra hurdle to get their votes counted. They not only have to proactively request a partisan ballot; they also have to mark two bubbles on that ballot to indicate their choice for president - one indicating the party the voter is voting with, and a second indicating the candidate for which the voter is voting. This need to mark two bubbles makes no sense from the voter's perspective -- nowhere else, in no other situation, are voters asked to make to two marks to indicate their choice. In LA, this requirement was entirely driven by the voting technology the county uses. Without that first mark, the software cannot determine which candidate is awarded the vote.

Although Mr. Logan has apologized for this error, it is truly inexcusable, especially in light of the fact that this problem occurred two times previously, in the 2004 and 2006 California primaries. Logan previously told the LA County supervisors that only forty percent of the ballots from decline-to-state voters in those two elections were counted. The county knew there was a huge undervote occurring for a certain class of voters, and yet continued to use the same voting system and ballot design. Why? The ballot is designed based on what works best for election administrators, not what works best for the voters.

While it's likely true that some of the votes cannot be counted with 100 percent accuracy, many of them could be. This is an odd election, one where the voting process is administered by the state and counties, but the impact of the results are determined by the parties. The county should count those ballots by hand, to the best of their ability, and give the results to the Democatic and American Independent parties and let them decide what to do with them. If 90 percent of the ballots can be counted with a 95 percent degree of confidence in the accuracy, that's probably good enough for the parties.

In the case of the California Democratic Party, delegate votes are awarded on a proportional basis, by congressional district. There are 18 congressional districts contained entirely or partly in Los Angeles county. These include CD 22, CDs 23-39, CD 42, and CD 46. In CD 29, for example, which is entirely within LA County, Hillary Clinton recieved 42,144 votes while Barack Obama received 35,735 votes. The difference between the two candidates is 6,409; the number of decline-to-state voters registered in that district is 66,254. While we don't know how many actually voted in the election, if the uncounted decline-to-state voters' ballots were counted, the results in some congressional district would change and in turn, possibly the number of delegates awarded to Obama and Clinton.

In addition to the very real possiblity that the delegate vote count from California could be impacted depending on whether or not these votes get counted, there's another reason to count them, even if the count isn't 100 percent accurate. People who vote want to know that their vote mattered. They want to see it show up somewhere. I know I'm not alone when I log online after an election, look at the total vote for a candidate and get a feeling of satisfaction knowing that my vote made the total 1,404,568 instead of 1,404,567.

There are 50,000 California voters living in Los Angeles who are being denied the satisfaction of seeing their vote show up. These are people who took time out from their day to go to the polls, who went through extra hoops to request a partisan ballot in the first place, and who are likely left feeling that voting is a futile exercise.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

At least 90,000 undervotes reported in Los Angeles County

Today's L.A. Daily News features this story by Troy Anderson reporting on Acting L.A. County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan's responses to questions from county supervisors yesterday regarding the "double bubble" undervote problem in Los Angeles, in which decline-to-state voters were required to mark two bubbles on the ballot to indicate their vote in the Democratic presidential primary. The registrar estimates that half of the ballots cast by decline-to-state voters did not include the second mark on the ballot and would not be automatically counted. Tens of thousands of late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots may also lack the second mark. He also informed the supervisors that in the 2004 and 2006 election, only about 40 percent of the county's decline-to-state voters' votes were counted.

It's always hard to see what's missing. In this case, there has been a pattern of huge undervotes for a certain class of voters in Los Angeles county that have failed to show up in the county's vote totals. That the problem would be known by election officials and go uncorrected for several election cycles is astonishing. The L.A. County supervisors, district attorney and the Secretary of State are all investigating.

Fortunately, Secretary of State Debra Bowen's election security orders require counties to include undervotes and overvotes in their post-election audits. With that data being publicly reported, it is more likely that a significant undervote in a jurisdiction, such as what has been found in LA, will be detected in the future.

The LA Daily News story is featured below.


About half of all 189,000 Los Angeles County nonpartisan ballots cast in the Tuesday primary were not counted because of confusion over ballot design, the county's top elections official said Wednesday.

And acting Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan said potentially tens of thousands more may also be affected because several hundred thousand absentee and provisional ballots are still left to count.

The problems surfaced Tuesday as the registrar's office began receiving reports throughout the day from crossover voters at the polls confused about how to mark their ballots.

While election experts said they doubt the problems will alter the outcome of the statewide vote, it could affect the number of delegates each candidate gets - potentially determining the Democratic nominee for president.

"Los Angeles County is the largest election jurisdiction in the country so anything that goes wrong in L.A. goes wrong on a big scale," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

"If these under-votes get counted, it could change the delegates in some California congressional districts."

Under questioning by the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, Logan said about half of the county's 189,000 nonpartisan and decline-to-state voters who cast ballots did not fill in a party box at the top of the ballot required for their vote for a Democratic presidential candidate to count.

Logan said that amid widespread concern about voting accuracy, he will conduct a 1 percent manual recount during the 28-day election canvass to determine the exact number of disenfranchised voters.

Logan said it will then be determined how many of those votes should be added to the counts for Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Logan said he also plans to convene a meeting of interested parties to determine how to ensure that ballots used in the June and November elections are less confusing.

Alexander said she's never heard of another jurisdiction in the nation where so many votes were uncounted. In the 2000 Florida voting dispute, only several thousands votes were in question.

"Clinton won the popular vote by a comfortable margin, but popular votes don't get you the nomination," Alexander said of California's Democratic primary Tuesday.

"There is a very real possibility that these under-votes could help sway the election results for the Democratic presidential primary contest."

Meanwhile, campaign officials for Obama said they received hundreds of calls from voters concerned that their votes weren't counted. Campaign officials said they also received complaints from independents who said they were not allowed to vote for a Democratic candidate.

A lawyer for the Courage Campaign, a voting-rights group, sent a letter Wednesday to Logan demanding that he ensure that votes are properly counted.

"We can't have another Florida 2000," said Rick Jacobs, founder and chairman of the Courage Campaign.

"It's important for the next two elections in June and November."

Logan said he will work with the Secretary of State's Office to examine the issue.

The county has more than 800,000 nonpartisan voters. The controversy involves voters registered as Decline-to-State who chose to cross over to the American Independent or Democratic Party ballots.

They were required to mark the party box at the top of the ballot - along with their choice for president - for the vote to count.

"We got hundreds of phone calls about this, if not thousands," said Debbie Mesloh, the California director of communications for Obama, who received 41 percent of the county vote compared with Clinton at 55 percent.

"We are telling people who have concerns to contact the Secretary of State's Office."

Officials also expressed alarm after Logan said that only about 40 percent of ballots cast by nonpartisan voters for president in the 2004 and 2006 elections were counted.

"None of us know if these (uncounted votes) could tip the election, but there is a possibility here," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said no other county in the state has had this type of problem and that he wants to work with the county and Secretary of State Debra Bowen to ensure that it doesn't occur again.

"Other counties," Delgadillo said, "were able to see around the corner and had the ability to solve their problems before the election."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

California election results and more on LA's "double bubble" trouble

Election results from California's primary are posted on the Secretary of State's web site. So far the site shows that over 7 million votes were cast in yesterday's election; however, this does not include late "vote-by-mail" ballots that are returned to polling places on Election Day, or provisional ballots. Like a lot of folks, I'm curious about how many ballots still remain to be counted. There is a place on the Secretary of State's web site where this data is going to be published, but there are no details available yet.

Meanwhile, many questions are being asked about Los Angeles County's ballot layout, which requires decline-to-state voters who voted in the Democratic primary to fill in two bubbles in order for their ballot to be counted -- one that indicates they are voting in the Democratic primary, and another one that indicates the candidate for whom they are voting. There is widespread concern that many LA County decline-to-state voters overlooked the first bubble and simply voted for their candidate of choice. The county's acting Registrar of Voters, Dean Logan, issued this news release stating that:

"In cooperation and consultation with the Secretary of State we will seek to determine whether or not this issue has potential impact on the outcome of the Democratic Presidential contest. If such an impact is established, we will exhaust every available option under state law to count cross over votes on nonpartisan ballots where the intent of the voter can be clearly and definitively determined."

While it appears unlikely that the double bubble problem in Los Angeles will affect the outcome of the popular vote statewide, it is possible that it could impact the outcome of Democatic party delegate votes, many of which are allocated by congressional district. There are 18 congressional districts that are wholly or partially included in Los Angeles County, and the margin of difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in some of these districts is far narrower than the number of LA county decline-to-state voters registered in the district. **

On this post-election day, we are also responding to emails from several decline-to-state voters from around the state who were not allowed to vote a partisan ballot at their polling places yesterday. It's unclear how widespread this problem is, but it is unfortunate that any voter would be disenfranchised, and such problems could be avoided if pollworkers were instructed by state law to inform decline-to-state voters of their rights to vote in partisan primaries.

** A clarification: Since the Democratic Party's delegate votes are awarded proportionally, neither Obama or Clinton "win" congressional districts. However, a large undervote for either candidate could reduce the total number of delegate votes awarded to that candidate.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Counting up California's Presidential primary votes

California election results will be available from the Secretary of State's web site this evening after the polls close at 8 p.m. The first results likely to appear will be the early vote-by-mail ballots. These are the estimated 2 million ballots California voters returned by mail prior to today. They are typically counted on Election Day and the results are ready to be announced as soon as polls close.

The next set of ballots that will start showing up will be the polling place ballots. The speed with which these results get posted will largely depend on what kind of voting equipment a county is using. Counties using in-precinct scanners to count paper ballots at the polls will likely get their polling place ballot results in faster than counties that are centrally counting paper ballots. Three counties will be using electronic voting machines. Check out CVF's County by County Directory of Voting Systems to see what kind of system each county is using.

The last set of ballots that will be counted are the vote-by-mail ballots that are returned to polling places on Election Day, and provisional ballots which are used by voters whose registration status is in question, or who failed to receive or misplaced their vote-by-mail ballot. These ballots may account for as much as 25 percent of all of the ballots being cast in this election, and they take considerably longer to count because they must be carefully verified before being counted.

So, it may be Thursday or even Friday before we know which Presidential candidates win the popular vote in California. And it may be weeks before we actually know how many delegate votes are awarded to each candidate. Both major parties award their delegate votes by congressional district, so in order to determine how many delegates each candidate has won you need to know what the results are by congressional district. I checked in with the Secretary of State's office on this matter earlier today, and the staff informed me that the Secretary of State's election returns web page will feature election results by congressional district.

Counting the votes in California, issues with LA's ballot layout

This AP story by Alison Hoffman explains why California's vote count will likely be delayed, and also the issue that has arisen with the way LA County's Decline-to-State ballot is laid out for those voters who wish to vote in a partisan primary. An image of the ballot layout in question is available from this web site. Excerpts from the AP story are below.

Election officials throughout California worked furiously Monday to count as many early absentee ballots as possible, hoping to get caught up before an expected crush of Election Day ballots that could significantly delay final tallies.

More than 2.2 million mail-in ballots have been returned to registrars' offices. But with more than 3 million outstanding and an expected high turnout at polling places, registrars predicted as much as 25 percent of the overall vote may go uncounted on Election Night.

Voter-outreach groups criticized the ballot in Los Angeles County, saying it could disenfranchise independent voters.

The Democratic and American Independent party ballots given to independent voters who request them include an extra bubble specifying that the ballot is for that party's primary. The bubble appears before the list of presidential candidates.

If voters fail to mark that spot, the county's scanning machines will not read the selection for president.

Lawyers for the Los Angeles-based Courage Campaign said that violates California election law. The group sent a letter to Los Angeles County officials threatening legal action if the issue isn't addressed before Tuesday's election.

"We did talk to the county, and they admit it's a problem," Courage Campaign chairman Rick Jacobs said. "They just don't seem to know what to do about it."

Los Angeles County's top election official said he did not think most voters would skip the required ballot entry. Primary elections in 2004 and 2006 had the same requirement.

"It would almost be counterintuitive for someone to miss," said Dean Logan, the acting county registrar. "We have put this information in voter education materials, and we've provided real clear instructions."

NJ touchscreen machines keep state's governor from voting

There goes those touchscreens again, keeping people from voting. In this case, it was New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who arrived at his polling place at 6:15 a.m. this morning to vote. Problem was, neither of the two touchscreen voting machines were operating.

According to news reports, "Gov. Jon Corzine had to wait 45 minutes before casting his vote in Hoboken today after poll workers switched the voting machine to the wrong setting...Instead of activating the voting machine for a primary election, which distinguishes between Democrats and Republicans, the poll worker activated the machine as if it were a general election...."

"As a result, when a voter went to cast a vote in the Democratic presidential contest, the machine wouldn't allow the vote to be cast, Hudson County Board of Elections clerk Michael Harper told the Jersey Journal.

"Corzine's security detail, emerged at around 6 a.m. from the polling site at Hoboken Fire Department Engine Co. No. 2, followed by a trail of TV cameras, saying the machine was broken, Harper said.

"About 45 minutes later a technician rectified the problem and Corzine was able to vote, Harper said."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Counting votes -- it ain't fast food, folks!

Like many people, I've been anticipating California's Primary election for months, and am excited to have our state finally have a say in deciding who the presidential candidates will be.

As eager as I am to find out the results, I know they will be slow in coming. Some election officials claim this anticipated delay will be caused by Secretary of State Debra Bowen's restrictions on the use of touchscreen voting in California. The reality is that a delay is more likely to be caused by the fact that 1-2 million Californians who requested vote-by-mail ballots will be turning them in at the polls, and these ballots will take longer to verify and count.

It's a myth that electronic voting gives us faster results. The truth is that is that California has experienced numerous e-voting disasters over the years which have resulted in thousands of voters being disenfranchised and extremely long delays in getting election results.

Over the years, I've made a practice of dowloading County Status Reports from the Secretary of State's web site on election night to see if there's any truth to the idea that counties using electronic voting equipment get their results in faster than paper ballot counties. I took a look at those reports today and the only pattern to be found is that the larger the county, the longer the results take. There have been plenty of paper ballot counties that got their results in quickly, and plenty of electronic voting counties that had delays for numerous reasons.

For example, San Bernardino was one of the earliest adopters of electronic voting and has had repeated problems getting its results up on a timely basis. In March 2004, the county had zero percent of its precincts reported by 12:17 a.m. on election night. In the 2004 General election, the county managed to get 47 percent of its precincts reported by 1:29 a.m. In the 2005 statewide special election, zero precincts were reported by 9:46 p.m. and in the 2006 primary, zero precincts were reported by 10:32 p.m.

I wouldn't be picking on San Bernardino County if not for the fact that its spokesperson told the Riverside Press Enterrpise that "compared to what w'eve been working with, this is very much a Stone Age process." It is simply a matter of historical revision for any county - and particularly, San Bernardino - to claim that electronic voting has resulted in speedy, accurate results.

Besides, what's the rush? This isn't fast food we're talking about here. It is our precious ballots. I'd rather see counties get the results right than get them out fast. California is lucky to have a smart and courageous Secretary of State who has worked over the past year to ensure we can vote with confidence.

The changes that Secretary Bowen has implemented extend beyond the voting methods that will be used in polling places on election day. She has also implemented new, rigorous post-election auditing requirements that expand on California's existing one percent manual count law. Under Bowen's orders, counties will be required to recount ten percent of the ballots in contests where the results are within .5 percent. If discrepencies are found during the one percent manual count, additional ballots must be counted.

As a result of Secretary Bowen's leadership, we have more secure ballots and greater election verification in Calfornia than ever before.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Election Q&A from KFOG

Yesterday I was a guest on KFOG's Morning Show. I had a terrific time and we took a lot of calls and answered many questions during the hour I was on the air with the Morning Show hosts. The folks at KFOG have made MP3's of the show available online. Part I is an explanation of the Indian gaming propositions and Prop 91. Part II explains Props 92 and 93. Part III offers more information on helpful voter web sites.

Political parties and delegate votes explained on Fresh Air

Earlier this year, I got to thinking about California's presidential primary. For the first time in my life, the voters of my state would have a say in deciding who the major parties' nominees would be for president.

Or would we? Sure, our election would be earlier than usual, but what exactly are we voting for? We are voting for a particular nominee, but it's actually voting for their pledged delegates to go to the party convention and vote for that person at the convention. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have complicated rules for deciding how many delegates are awarded. For the Democrats, it's a proportional system, so that any candidate who receives at least 15 percent of the vote statewide will be guaranteed a proportional number of delegate votes. But then the Democrats also have these "superdelegates", who are party leaders and can however they like at the convention regardless of how California voters voted. For the Republicans, they don't have a big group of superdelegates, but they do have a unique, "winner-take-all" by congressional district way of awarding delegate votes to candidates. And for both parties, there is nothing binding any of the delegates to actually vote for the person for whom they have pledged (kind of like how the Electoral College works).

Nonetheless, California is a big prize with lots of delegates and elections are mostly a confidence game so whoever does best in California will certainly get a big boost, both in terms of numbers of delegates awarded and in momentum. Still, I got to wondering how we got to this place, where primary elections are run by state and local election officials, but the rules are dictated by the political parties?

Yesterday, Fresh Air host Terry Gross had a guest on who answered all of my questions. Her guest was political scientist David Rodhe, and his interview with Terry Gross helped explain how the primary process really works and how it got to be the way it is. It's online here.