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."

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