Joint Legislative Panel Hears of Widespread Failures in CA Primary

In response to widespread election breakdowns across California during the February 5th Primary Election, an unprecedented Joint Legislative Hearing heard testimony for more than five hours in Los Angeles Friday, March 7 concerning error-ridden voter registration rolls blocking eligible voters from voting, shortages of provisional ballots disenfranchising thousands, lax or nonexistenct ballot custody measures, and most notoriously, a completely avoidable, known ballot design issue that ended up voiding the candidate choices of 12,000 voters.

VIDEO: Tom Courbat, director of Save R Vote (and also EDA Coordinator for Election Monitoring) addressed the Joint Legislative hearing in Los Angeles, March 7, about problems he observed in Riverside County in the Feb. 5 primary election.
In addition to photo-documented evidence of election security violations, Tom told the panel that the state is failing to allocate adequarte resources to enforce existing election laws, and that the EI advocates who are doing the state's work to identify and document election problems need to be accorded more direct participation in investigatory hearings, instead of being relegated to the end of the agenda and limited to 60 seconds of speaking time.
Joining Secretary of State Debra Bowen on the hearing panel were the chairs of three California State Senate and Assembly committees charged with oversight of elections: Assemblymember Curren Price, Chair of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee; Senator Ron Calderon, Chair of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment, and Constitutional Amendments Committee; and Senator Jenny Oropeza, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Integrity of Elections. Two other senators, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Dean Flores rounded out the panel.

Foremost in the witness role were the Acting Registrar of Voters for LA County, Dean Logan, and former Registrar Conny McCormack, who hand-picked Logan as her successor. Other invited speakers were Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir, President of the California Association of County Elections Officials (CACEO), and representatives of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and California Voter Foundation.

More than 50 election integrity advocates turned out to give their testimony, but were scheduled at the very end of the hearing and in all but a few cases were allotted only 30 to 60 seconds each to speak.

The largest (known) disenfranchinsing incident in the state was the "Double Bubble" problem in Los Angeles County that initially threatened to disqualify the votes of nearly 60,000 "independent" voters (those not registered with any political party) who had voted for candidates in the California Democratic primary.

Not until EI advocates such as the LA Election Protection Task Force, Protect California Ballots, and the Courage Campaign raised public protest did the acting registrar of voters for LA County, Dean Logan, reverse his position and arrange to have the non-partisan ballots counted by hand.

In the end, there were still 12,000 ballots that went uncounted because of the double bubble problem.

The problem arises because the Inka Vote ballot cards have no candidate names or propositions printed on them. The only feature of these op scan ballots are the voting positions (bubbles) corresponding to candidates or propositions, to be marked by the voters.

Some of the ballot positions are keyed to the "double" bubble for either the Democratic or American Independent Party candidates. Cross-referencing precinct pollbooks with the ballots enabled determination of the voter intent in most of the cases, but only because of human hannd-counting, and even then, 12,000 ballots could not be resolved.

This arrangement of ballots without human-readable printing is wholly for the convenience of the scanners, and either difficult or impossible for purposes of human counting.

The scanners were programmed not to count any non-partisan ballots without the double bubble marked -- but they could have been programmed to kick back any such ballot for the voter to correct.

But that would have posed another problem, for the voters were not informed about the double bubble requirement as they went to vote at the polls and the pollworkers were not informed or trained to provide this crucial information to the voters.

For no good reason, LA has been using a ballot form designed 6 years ago by recently retired Registrar of Voters Conny McCormack that requires non-affiliated voters to not only mark their choice for candidates, but also to fill in an additional ballot item, the "double bubble," indicating they are a non-partisan voter casting their vote in a political party primary. (The Democratic and American Independent parties are the only two of California's seven registered political parties that allow non-partisan voters to vote in their primary elections.)

The "Inka Vote" optical scanners that count Los Angeles ballots were programmed to disqualify non-partisan ballots that lacked a mark in the "double bubble" indicating a non-partisan voter's intent to cast a vote for a Democratic or American Independent candidate.

Election officials of Los Angeles County -- which accounts for one-fourth of the state's 30-million registered voters -- have known about the double bubble problem for four consecutive elections spanning the previous six years, and in each of those elections the bubble issue has resulted in the routine and predictable voiding of tens of thousands of votes.

A Los Angeles Times editorial of Feb. 18, 2008 noted that: "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%."

Yet at the hearing, incredibly enough, McCormack testified that "no one could have foreseen" the double bubble problem this year.

Kim Alexander of the CalVoter Foundation had three solid recommendations that state and county officials should take immediate action to fulfill:

1. There needs to be a full accounting of all of the Decline-to-State ballots;

2. There needs to be a thorough, outside investigation; and

3. Los Angeles needs to move to a paper ballot voting system where the candidates and choices appear directly on the ballot.

Senator Jenny Oropeza indicated there is a likelihood of passing “urgency legislation” that would take effect immediately

Brad Friedman has published a chronology of the "Double Bubble" fiasco that includes numerous links to LA-area press accounts and video of the Los Angeles hearing shot by BradBlog contributor Alan Breslauer.

CA_Hearing_Election Problems_030708.pdf31.57 KB