L.A. election officials review confusing ‘bubble ballots’
SACRAMENTO – Pressure intensified on Los Angeles County elections officials Thursday to quickly address the “double bubble” controversy over ballots given to independent voters in this week’s presidential primary.
Potentially at stake is the county’s final delegate allocation for Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who are locked in a tight race for the party’s nomination.
Independent voters in California were allowed to vote in the Democratic Party or American Independent Party primaries.
In Los Angeles County, independents who requested one of those ballots had to fill in an extra bubble stating which party’s primary they were voting in. They then made their selection for president.
If they failed to do both, the county’s scanning machines would not record their selection for president. Los Angeles is the only one of California’s 58 counties to use that particular ballot.
It also is the most populous and has the state’s greatest share of voters, lending greater weight to any election challenge.
Concern over the county’s so-called double-bubble ballot arose on Election Day, when the Courage Campaign, a Beverly Hills-based voting rights group, challenged the balloting process for independents.
The group has been inundated with complaints from independent voters who said they were not told to fill in the second bubble and fear their votes might not be counted, chairman Rick Jacobs said.
“People took the trouble to vote, and they deserve to have their votes counted,” he said Thursday.
He has asked the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office for a full review of the ballots where the presidential race was rejected because the extra bubble was not filled in. There are about 94,500 such ballots.
Any review would not change the outcome of the race – Clinton beat Obama by 396,168 votes statewide and 162,745 in Los Angeles County. But it could affect the allocation of delegates, which is done on a proportional basis by congressional district.
About 190,000 ballots were cast by decline-to-state voters in Los Angeles County. About half of those voters correctly filled in the extra bubble.
County elections officials now will sample 1 percent of the flawed ballots to see how many were supposed to be counted in the Democratic or American Independent presidential primaries.
If the number is significant, there may be a way to count some of those flawed ballots, said Eileen Shea, a spokeswoman for the county elections office.
“We take it very seriously,” she said.
The ballots have been used in Los Angeles County since 2002, Shea said. But this year’s close presidential contests brought out a higher number of nonpartisan voters who wanted to vote in party primaries.
State lawmakers also weighed in on the controversy Thursday.
State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, complained in a letter to Registrar Dean Logan that the double-bubble ballot “is unnecessary, confusing, duplicative” and may have disenfranchised thousands of voters.
State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said Los Angeles County’s “double-bubble trouble” echoes Florida’s hanging-chad debacle of 2000.
“We don’t want voters to have to fill out any bubble,” Florez said at a Capitol news conference. “There ought to be some very clear rules in what the ballot should look like and how the voting should work.”
Independents, who account for nearly 20 percent of registered voters in California, also ran into problems elsewhere. In some counties, poll workers improperly turned away independents who wanted to vote in a party primary.
“The entire integrity of the voting process is at stake,” Florez said. “We need to get it right.”
He introduced legislation Thursday to make it clear that independent voters can cast ballots in the Democratic Party or American Independent Party primaries. The bill would require poll workers to post signs and hand each decline-to-state voter a list of party primaries in which they can participate.
They are prohibited from voting in the Republican Party primary in California.
Florez also called for a state audit of pollworker training and a Senate oversight hearing to investigate balloting problems. Los Angeles County supervisors also have ordered an investigation.
The state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, acknowledged some flaws in Tuesday’s balloting but generally was satisfied, a spokeswoman said.
“Overall, Secretary Bowen is pleased that things went very smoothly, given the record turnout,” spokeswoman Kate Folmar said.
The secretary of state’s office fielded 500 voter complaints out of 20,000 calls to the office’s voter assistance line, Folmar said.
Most of the complaints dealt with the rights of independent voters.
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