I spent most of yesterday and today on the phone with attorneys and officials trying to sort out the continuing, disastrous mess concerning the "Double Bubble" ballot fiasco from Los Angeles County's February 5th Democratic Primary.
That, despite what we see as this week's premature declaration of "Victory!" on Tuesday from our friends at the Courage Campaign, followed by their "We won!" email on Wednesday, as they celebrated after the county's acting Registrar announced his plan to count some (though by no means all) of the 50,000 or so still-uncounted ballots cast by Non-Partisan (NP) voters who had attempted to vote in the open Democratic Primary on "Super Tuesday."
During a late-night phone call from a local Election Integrity advocate last night, however, I was told that situation is even worse than previously reported or even known --- even by the county's elections officials --- to date, as another set of thousands of legal ballots may go uncounted, even under a new tabulating scheme being implemented by county officials...
Judy Alter, President of ProtectCaliforniaBallots.org, has been spending her days at the county's central tabulating office in Norwalk over the last several weeks since the election, observing tabulation, and working closely with the managers and technicians overseeing the ballot counting. She told me last night that there are thousands of validated provisional ballots cast by NP voters, which include a selection for a candidate in the open Democratic or American Independent Party Primaries, but which will remain uncounted according to the new counting scheme [PDF] announced this week by acting Registrar Dean Logan.
On Wednesday, I reported on the problems with the partial, unfair-to-candidates, "supplemental" counting scheme proposed by Logan, along with my solution to the problem which would count nearly all of the so-far uncounted ballots, 100% accurately, and in accordance with provisions of both the California election code and its Constitution. Though my suggestions have been ignored by officials to date, Logan is set to begin the "supplemental count," according to his currently proposed scheme, on Saturday morning.
Alter, however, reports that a set of ballots, from among an estimated 10 to 15,000 currently uncounted NP provisional ballots, will also not be counted by the county's new tabulating scheme. That despite the fact, Alter says, that the original provisional ballot envelopes specify on them whether the NP voters were attempting to vote in either the Democratic or American Independent Party primary.
Logan is set to begin his "supplemental count" of all of the NP ballots which went uncounted previously, tomorrow. Those ballots --- an estimated 50,000 of them --- had valid selections in the Presidential race, but no selection in a second bubble on the ballot used to specify which party, Democratic or American Independent, the voter was intending to vote in.
Due to the absurd ballot design implemented by the former Registrar Conny McCormack, who quit her post as the chief Election Official for the nation's most populous county just one month prior to election day, it was impossible for the county's optical-scan computers to read the Presidential selections on those NP ballots correctly, given that a number of the bubbles for Presidential candidate overlapped for each party's candidates. If neither the #5 or #6 bubble was filled in on the ballot, specifying either the Dem or AI party, there was no way --- short of a manual cross-check with the precinct poll rosters --- to determine which party's candidate the voters were intending to select if they voted for a candidate in the #8 to #10 bubbles where both parties had candidates listed on the ballot.
According to Logan's flawed plan for his "supplemental count," many of the currently uncounted non-provisional ballots, with votes for Democratic candidates lucky enough to be on the ballot in the #11 to #15 bubbles, will be tallied. But his plan will not tally votes cast --- even in the same precinct --- for any candidate in the #8 to #10 slots, if any NP-AI voters were noted in the poll rosters as having voted at the same precinct. The candidate ballot positions were rotated randomly in each different Congressional district.
The plan, as bad as it is, according to Alter, is even worse than previously known, since thousands of provisional ballots without the #5 or #6 party bubble filled in will go uncounted due to yet another bad decision by the Registrar's office.
Alter explains that many of the provisional ballots cast were "remade" after the voter was validated as a registered voter. The remaking of the ballots is said to have been done when voters cast their provisional ballots at precincts different than their own. If they did, their ballots were "remade" by hand, by county officials, on the appropriate ballots for the voters' correct precincts.
That notion is bad enough, but worse, when the ballots were "remade," if no selection was made by the voter in the #5 or #6 party bubble, the voters' selections for President were not included on the remade ballots!
Therefore, when those ballots are processed again, via Logan's "supplemental" method, they will not be seen by the tabulator machines as containing votes for President, and thus will remain uncounted. More disenfranchised voters in Los Angeles County.
We have several calls in to the Registrar's office to confirm these details and to get more information. However, given that Logan's "supplemental" count is now set to begin at 7:30am tomorrow morning, according to this notice [PDF] posted by the county, and with the local certification deadline set for next Tuesday, we thought it best to get this information out immediately, based only on Alter's description of the problem for the moment.
How Many Voters May be Affected?
According to an informal guesstimate, based on previously known percentages of NP ballots containing selections for a Presidential candidate, but without a choice selected in one of the two party bubbles, Alter estimates that some 10,000 to 15,000 such ballots may be affected and mixed in with the 136,000 existing, already-validated provisional ballots cast during the Election.
Of that estimated 10 to 15 thousand, a smaller set of those would have been "remade" without transferring the voters' selections for Presidential candidate to the new ballot, though Alter did not want to hazard a guess as to how many that might be. Our call has so far not been returned by the official she recommended we contact to get harder numbers on this issue.
Late this afternoon we spoke again with Alter, who is again at the Norwalk counting facility today. She reports that she has now shared her discovery, and accompanying concern, with nearly half a dozen of the officials and technical managers there. She is hopeful that they understand the problem, and are currently taking action to find a way to include those ballots for accurate tabulation in the "supplemental count."
Alter suggests that the quickest and most accurate way to do that count, at this point, would be to examine and count, by hand, all of the original (un-"remade") provisional Non-Partisan ballots.
Though I caution again that I've been unable to confirm any of these details, up to this point, with officials, Alter's description of the problem, as well as her understanding of the ballots and counting processes currently underway in Norwalk, is quite detailed. Alter says she originally discussed the matter yesterday with the head of quality control for provisional ballots and the supervisor of the "remake" room, whose nickname is "Tray" (she doesn't know his last name). She confirmed the issue with him again today, and also reported the problem to Alex Olvera, Tray's supervisor, and at least two other officials at the facility.
The time issues in play lead me to run this story earlier than I normally might, without getting confirmation from an official, but it certainly sounds like the always-vigilant Alter has likely got it right.
All of which underscores again the importance of tangible, voter-marked paper ballots that can be transparently counted, examined, and recounted again, as needed, as well as the importance of oversight, and the ability of the public to do so in all aspects of our public elections.
The voters of L.A. County, and L.A. County officials themselves, owe Alter a great thank you.
Previous BRAD BLOG "Double Bubble" coverage...
2/7/08: The Debacle Explained
2/12/08: County Registrar Says 100k Ballot 'Impossible' to Count
2/14/08: How to Count Them All Accurately
2/18/08: "Condoleezza Registrar"
2/18/08: SoS Bowen Intervenes
2/26/08: Registrar Announces New Counting Scheme, 1000's of Legal Ballots Set to go Uncounted