LA election officials leery of potential election fiasco over "double bubble" (CA)
Troy Anderson, Staff Writer Los Angeles Daily News 05 February 2008
Fearing a "Florida in Los Angeles County" fiasco is brewing over the confusing "double bubble" voter ballot, election experts said today they are concerned a ballot design flaw could prevent hundreds of thousands of non-partisan votes for president from counting.
"I have heard numerous reports from voters throughout the city of Los Angeles which point to wide-spread voter confusion over Los Angeles County's so-called 'double bubble' Decline-to-State non-partisan voter ballot," said Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who called on Secretary of State Debra Bowen and acting Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan to review the county's unique and potentially confusing ballot design.
"It would be unfortunate if non-partisan voters, confused by the county's unique 'double bubble' ballot design, did not have their vote counted."
Paul Drugan, director of media operations for the Registrar-Recorder's Office, confirmed their office received numerous reports from crossover voters confused about how to mark their ballots.
Secretary of State's Office spokeswoman Nicole Winger said her office has received calls about the issue and is investigating.
Non-partisan voters registered as "Decline-to-State" who chose to cross over to the American Independent or Democratic party ballots had to mark the party box at the the top of the ballot along with their choice for president for the vote to count.
"I don't think it's a widespread problem," Drugan said. "Is it going on? Are some
voters confused? Yes, they are. Is it widespread or systemic? I don't think that it is."
But Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the issue could affect a large number of votes because more than 20 percent of the county's nearly 4 million registered voters are listed as "Decline-to-State."
"This could potentially impact hundreds of thousands of ballots," Alexander said. "There could be legal challenges. Both parties will award delegate votes to their candidates based on results by congressional district and Los Angeles County is home to a dozen congressional districts. So it could impact a lot of delegate votes, depending on how close the results are by congressional district."
More than 750,000 non-partisan voters, or a quarter of the state's registered voters live in Los Angeles County. If a chunk of these voters were disenfranchised, Alexander said it could alter the statewide presidential primary results.
"It really depends on how close the races are," Alexander said. "It could lead to legal contests. This issue is one of the more serious issues that has arisen around the state. There is a lot of confusion about 'Decline-to-State' voters."
Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the Courage Campaign, an independent political committee with 100,000 statewide members who are threatening legal action over the issue, said his organization has asked Logan to do a 5 percent manual recount, instead of the normal 1 percent, after the election to determine the extent of the problem.
"We think this could be Florida in Los Angeles County," Jacobs said.
"If you think about the dimensions of this, three-quarters of a million people in Los Angeles County alone are Decline-to-State voters. I think this could be the difference between one candidate and another getting delegates and potentially getting the nomination.
We want to at least know the magnitude of this problem."
Even if the county agrees to a 5 percent manual recount and discovers widespread problems, Jacobs said some bubbles on the ballot are used for two different candidates, which would make it impossible for officials to determine which candidate someone voted for if they didn't fill in the top bubble.
"Bubble 11 is for Hilary Clinton," Jacobs said. "Bubble 13 is for Barack Obama. If someone is voting American Independent, bubble 9 is for one of their candidates, but it's also for John Edwards. So it's a true mess. And regrettably, people are going to be disenfranchised.
We are going to take any legal action necessary."
For the presidential primary, the American Independent and Democratic parties have allowed non-partisan and "Decline-to-State" voters the option of casting a ballot for their party's presidential candidates.
To ensure voters mark their ballots properly, Acting Registrar-Recorder Logan has posted a notice on his Web site at www.lavote.net and sent instructional notices to all registered voters in their sample ballot packs and released a public service announcement.
"I am outraged that any voter would be turned down or turned away from a polling place anywhere in our state when they have a lawful right to cast a State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is running for county supervisor, said he also has spoken with Bowen and L.A. County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan about the problems.
"I want DTS voters told explicitly - on TV, radio, newspaper and the Internet - that they have a right to vote, they will be given the ballot they request on which to cast their vote, and they have time to return to the polls before 8:00 p.m. tonight to preserve their right to vote," he said.
Justin Levitt, an election attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice in New York City and a coordinator at a Election Protection Hotline call center in Los Angeles, said they received a large volume of calls regarding people not filling out the top bubble.
"We're worried that many independent voters won't see that bubble, won't fill it out and won't have their vote counted," Levitt said.
"In every national election, we see a few problems because of ballot design. Sometimes they are small problems and sometimes they are really, really big. The most infamous was the butterfly ballot problem in Florida in 2000.
"In 2006, there was a serious problem that was due to ballot design in Florida. So every once in awhile these problems get really big.
We'll have to wait until the end of the day, or over the next couple of days, to see if this identified problem in Los Angeles is a problem of that scale or not."
Alexander said Logan sent her an email, explaining the steps the county has taken to educate voters to fill in that top bubble.
"This was in response to complaints they received from the Courage Campaign," Alexander said. "It's a group that has raised this issue and is threatening legal action."
Delgadillo said he urged Bowen and Logan to do everything in their power to ensure that every vote is counted.
"Los Angeles' non-partisan voters must not be disenfranchised because of a confusing ballot design," Delgadillo said.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, The Drudge Report claimed that county election officials had failed to deliver voting equipment all over the county.
But Drugan said that wasn't true and only a few of the county's 4,379 polling centers opened late. An electoral inspector at the Westwide Jewish Community Center reported he had not received voting equipment several hours after the polls opened, a report that prompted The Drudge Report, Drugan said.
"What happened was all the supplies and the poll workers showed up, but they had no vote recorders," Drugan said. "We had to assemble them and delivered them around 12:30 p.m. During this time, folks were told they could come back later or go to another polling place and vote a provisional ballot."