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February 5, 2008 4:26 AM   Subscribe

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark California.

The California-based Courage Campaign is making noises about voter disenfranchisement in the Los Angeles area. For the 776,774 independent "Decline To State" voters in the primary there, casting a ballot for a Democratic nominee is a bit more difficult than you'd think would be necessary (the Republican primary is (un?)fortunately closed to independents). These "DTS" voters must request a Democratic Party ballot (as opposed to a generic nonpartisan one without a section for the Presidency), and then (somewhat redundantly) fill a bubble at the top of that ballot reiterating their intent to participate in the Democratic primary.

Sounds simple enough. But the average voter has been confounded by less than simple procedures before. In spite of the potential for confusion, the local board of registrars has made the brilliant decision to have the scanning machines invalidate all ballots that do not have that extra bubble filled in -- without informing the voter of the mistake. Furthermore, poll workers will not be required to inform DTS voters of their right to a Democratic ticket unless asked, a policy which State Senator Dean Florez said "violates the spirit of the law" in a stern letter (scroll down to read) to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

While the issue at first glance seems purely local, the effects of any disenfranchisement will have great influence on Tuesday's results. It is common knowledge that independents are drawn to Barack Obama's campaign, and with them locked out of supporting John McCain in the state's closed GOP primary, he was counting on their turnout to help top Hillary Clinton's erstwhile formidable lead. With the ballot issue threatening that support, the campaign was quick to explain the problem. And for good reason -- the three quarters of a million DTS voters in Los Angeles amount to three-fourths of the votes cast in the all the Democratic primaries to date. Their influence can easily sway California, which itself will sway the media narrative coming out of Super Tuesday.

For its part, the aforementioned Courage Campaign is hard at work spreading awareness with websites, (minor) celebrity radio ads, and cheesy YouTube skits. Here's hoping their efforts pay off, and that we can finally get through an election -- even one as crucial as SupercalifragalisticexpialaTuesday -- without an intractable struggle for recounts and justice.
posted by Rhaomi (33 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 


It is just this kind of move that has led me to have an increasing level of distaste for the HRC campaign & surrogates. Her whole campaign seems to be dominated by just the kind of Rovian move that has lead to the Republican Party being so unpopular. The irony of this to me is that it has only served to push Obama higher in the polls - if HRC had concentrated on a positive campaign then I'd think she would have won on experience and party loyalty.

As it is, go and vote for Obama.
posted by jaduncan at 4:44 AM on February 5, 2008


This problem you speak of is a rule. That is how the Obama blog characterised it.

Sounds simple enough.

Is, in fact.
posted by peacay at 4:49 AM on February 5, 2008


How does a ballot design featuring a completely redundant but required step make it into production without anyone pointing out the problem? The apparent incompetence is breathtaking. Can anyone provide an explanation?
posted by teleskiving at 4:55 AM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


teleskiving: Part of the reason is that the Board of Registrars is operating under a provisional leader, acting registrar Dean Logan, who is of questionable background. The previous registrar, Conny McCormack, retired in early January after leaving the election system a mess and engendering much bad blood with the voting integrity community.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:15 AM on February 5, 2008


This Washington Post blog entry says that in NH there were legal efforts on Primary Day that basically prevented Obama supporters from doing exit polling to find out if their efforts had been successful. It also claims that there was potentially a successful effort by Democratic leaders here to misrepresent Obama's abortion record right before the primary.
posted by XMLicious at 5:28 AM on February 5, 2008


Shouldn't let independents vote in the primary anyway.
posted by smackfu at 5:35 AM on February 5, 2008


This Washington Post blog entry says that in NH there were legal efforts on Primary Day that basically prevented Obama supporters from doing exit polling to find out if their efforts had been successful. It also claims that there was potentially a successful effort by Democratic leaders here to misrepresent Obama's abortion record right before the primary.

Politicians practicing politics? Sounds downright ROVIAN~!

God, if only there were a candidate running on a message of hope, or maybe a message of those tasty yogurt covered pretzels.
posted by 1 at 5:39 AM on February 5, 2008


XMLicious: I know as much is true with regard to the abortion flap; I've even seen the flyers put out by the Clinton campaign. Basically, they tried to make Obama look cowardly for voting "present" instead of "aye" on several pro-abortion bills in the Illinois state legislature. What they conveniently failed to menton was that Planned Parenthood had explicitly recommended the "present" strategy -- they did this because the bills were toothless, and designed by Republicans to target liberal legislators for negative ads come election time. By not voting for the bills, they turned down a symbolic victory in order to avoid political attacks. Mischaracterizing his votes in this way was incredibly dishonest.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:45 AM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Politicians practicing politics?

Particularly political party leadership altering the voting outcomes of an internal party election. Notably within a political party that has crowed its face off about stolen elections for the last seven years.
posted by XMLicious at 5:49 AM on February 5, 2008


What they conveniently failed to menton was that Planned Parenthood had explicitly recommended the "present" strategy...

Yes, in this Democratic-leadership-endorsed email situation in NH, the message evidently left out the fact that Obama received a 100% rating from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
posted by XMLicious at 5:51 AM on February 5, 2008


It is just this kind of move that has led me to have an increasing level of distaste for the HRC campaign & surrogates.

When I first read this I thought "WTF?! Why is the Human Rights Campaign trying to rig the Democratic election?!" It wasn't until you mention that "she" would have won that I realized we were talking about an individual.

Plus, I think it would be very cool of she was the Queen of England so she could be HRM HRC.
posted by Reverend John at 5:56 AM on February 5, 2008


Shouldn't let independents vote in the primary anyway.

I could agree with the notion that independents not be allowed to vote in a caucus, which is run by the parties themselves. But if government money, time, and effort is going to be spent on it, as it is in a primary, then as a taxpayer I damn well ought to get to vote.

In fact, since the two parties have their tentacles so far up the ass of the government, I think I ought to be able to vote in the races for both parties instead of having to choose one and make sure to re-register as an independent before the next primary. Here in NH if you don't re-register you have to vote for the same party next time.
posted by XMLicious at 6:03 AM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, shit.
posted by zardoz at 6:03 AM on February 5, 2008


Helpful to get more background on this. Thanks for the nice setup - just in time for me to go get in the polling line...
posted by mykescipark at 6:06 AM on February 5, 2008


Oddly enough, I also think the Republicans are trying to make people think McCain isn't eligible for election because he was born in Panama. (Which I only know about because I follow Google Hot Trends).
posted by drezdn at 6:08 AM on February 5, 2008


It is just this kind of move that has led me to have an increasing level of distaste for the HRC campaign & surrogates. Her whole campaign seems to be dominated by just the kind of Rovian move that has lead to the Republican Party being so unpopular.

While that's certainly been true, is there any evidence that Hillary is behind these rules for DTS ballots?

Anyway, the fact that the machine doesn't spit these cards back out is pretty fucked up. I mean, if they are programmed to spit out most incorrect ballots, then they should spit these ones out as well.

I could agree with the notion that independents not be allowed to vote in a caucus, which is run by the parties themselves. But if government money, time, and effort is going to be spent on it, as it is in a primary, then as a taxpayer I damn well ought to get to vote.

My feeling is that elections can be run whatever which way, but that what's important is to not change the rules a couple weeks before the election (or after it) as Hillary has tried to do with the NV caucus, and the Florida and even the Michigan primaries (in the case of MI, she was the only one on the ballot and then argued she should still get delegates, even though we've known months in advance that MI delegates would not be awarded)
posted by delmoi at 6:15 AM on February 5, 2008


Shouldn't let independents vote in the primary anyway.

Believe it or not, within the respective parties there's a disagreement on that. The ultra-left and ultra-right are against the idea; they see it as an infiltration of the integrity of the party and they would prefer the candidate that wins primary election to be a representation of one side of the aisle (so to speak).

The moderates in each party see it as a way to figure out who is going to be more electable during the presidential election.

I myself think primaries are ancillary, seeing as in the age of mass communication, the candidates are already ensuring their sound bytes will be more moderate and vague, and ultimately you never know who you've elected until he/she's has already left office.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:21 AM on February 5, 2008


Shouldn't let independents vote in the primary anyway.

There are two good arguments against this.

First, as Bathtub Bobsled says, it's a good indicator of which candidates can poach votes from the other side. We know Democrats will line up behind either candidate in November; which one is more likely to sway independents and moderate Republicans? (And yes, even some conservative Republicans.)

Second, the mere act of voting in a party's primary makes you more likely to vote for that party in the future. The hardest thing in the world, as far as organizing is concerned, is getting people to vote the first time. If the Democrats continue to have open primaries and the Republicans keep theirs closed, this has the potential to widen the gap in voter identification.
posted by EarBucket at 7:11 AM on February 5, 2008


Shouldn't let independents vote in the primary anyway.

Decline-to-state does not necessarily mean independent.
posted by rajbot at 7:46 AM on February 5, 2008


Ehhh... I worked a bunch of elections in San Francisco, not as a poll worker, but as a Field Election Deputy, who supervises multiple polling places. I am also very sensitive to disenfranchisement.

This is not disenfranchisement.

I think it's nice of the parties allows non party members to participate in choosing their nominee. This is not a right, nor should it be. Making it very slightly inconvenient (as in, you have to ask to do it) is not unreasonable.

Is it somehow more fair for folks who would prefer to vote for McCain to vote for Obama because they can't vote for their preferred candidate? I'm definitely confused by that logic.

And to be clear: I am strongly partisan in this election, and will be voting today for Obama.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:29 AM on February 5, 2008


I have very, very little patience for those who seem unable to read the directions and doublecheck their ballots before dropping them in the box.

I like the Ink-A-Dot system reasonably well (and a damn sight better than some godawful Diebold monstrosity), and even I look and make sure that each and every bubble I filled in corresponds, number by number to the numbers on the ballot sheet.

If you do not take your voice seriously enough to make sure that it is heard clearly and unambiguously, I have no sympathy if your entire ballot is tossed due to not following the very clear directions. And I also won't whine about "disenfranchisement" if my own ballot were tossed if I don't follow the directions.
posted by chimaera at 8:44 AM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't let independents vote in the primary anyway.

Decline-to-state does not necessarily mean independent.


Just to reiterate this is important. I am registered as independant in California, and there is a different box for DTS.

As a side note my home phone has been ringing off the hook with Obama calls. And no Clinton ones.
posted by Big_B at 8:47 AM on February 5, 2008


Hey, Scarlett Johansson didn't warn me about an extra bubble on MY ballot when she left that rambly message on my answering machine about how she and Barack Obama braid each other's hair or whatever.

Good thing I had the "complete the arrows" ballot instead. Oh wait, was there a hidden arrow I was supposed to complete? I double checked all my arrows, but still.

Great, yet another thing to fret about. Thanks folks.
posted by Gucky at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2008


Bathtub Bobsled writes "I myself think primaries are ancillary, seeing as in the age of mass communication, the candidates are already ensuring their sound bytes will be more moderate and vague, and ultimately you never know who you've elected until he/she's has already left office."

Well, that ignores the advantages that political parties have over independents, and the role that primaries play in each of the party organizations. But that's not to say we do it the best way. I'd personally be happier with a parliamentary system with proportional representation, and parties - not politicians - being elected, but there's very little chance of that happening in the US, I'm afraid.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:21 AM on February 5, 2008


What a pointless thing- why would a DTS voter request a Democratic ballot if they didn't intend their vote to be counted for the Democratic primary?

Shouldn't let independents vote in the primary anyway.

Decline-to-state does not necessarily mean independent.


Yep. I'm DTS because I don't want the crapload of mailers I would get as a registered whatever. I'm not a member of the Independent party.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:53 AM on February 5, 2008


What XMLicious said. If the government's paying for it, everyone should get to vote. If the parties want to vote amongst themselves, then that's fine, too, but they need to handle it themselves.

As for the ballot, that's definitely an evil trick. Yeah, it won't fool anyone who's paying attention--it's right above the presidential choices, on the same page, so anyone who actually reads the instructions can't miss it--but there's still no reason for it.

At my polling place they were warning people about it. (And I got a call from Obama's folks.) Hopefully they're doing that everywhere, so it won't actually screw too many people...
posted by equalpants at 1:46 PM on February 5, 2008


Damn. You guys freaked me out. I read quickly, missed the "LA County" part and was determined I had thrown my vote away. (I would have voted Gravel if I wanted to do that.)
posted by Gucky at 3:29 PM on February 5, 2008


Can someone explain why this only effects DTS voters, and not registered Democrats too? If they're using the same ballot, how does the scanner differentiate between the two?
posted by saladin at 11:57 AM on February 6, 2008


The scanner presumably differentiates between the DTS voters and Democrats by the bubble in question. Here's an image. In my county, Alameda, DTS voters who request a democratic ballot get a specially marked one that says something like DEMOCRAT-N, if I remember correctly. Otherwise it's just the same as the DEMOCRAT ballot.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:03 AM on February 7, 2008


... but I'm not sure how they would know that the ballot in question was cast by a DTS voter- they must count the DTS voters who sign in and request a dem ballot, and then toss the corresponding number of votes that don't have the box marked. Which means they could be tossing out registered democrat votes, because there's no way to tell who did what, AFAIK. What a mess.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:09 AM on February 7, 2008


Yeah, that's exactly what I'm afraid of. This is so ridiculous.
posted by saladin at 1:12 PM on February 12, 2008


Good news for anybody out there who's still listening: thanks to pressure from local community groups, the LA board of registrars has decided that not only will all of the rejected decline-to-state ballots be counted, but the treacherous Scantron-bubble redundancy that caused this whole mess will be removed from all future ballots. Click here for the full story.

It may have come too late to influence the media's coverage of Super Tuesday, but at least we can rest a bit easier knowing that this particular electoral fiasco has been resolved. Cheers, everybody!
posted by Rhaomi at 12:35 AM on February 28, 2008


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