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49,000 Nonpartisan Votes Won’t Count in L.A. County

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — On Super Tuesday, we brought you the case of the Double Bubble Trouble from Los Angeles. Because of voter error, whether it came about by misunderstandings by poll workers, voters, or a bad ballot design, potentially hundreds of thousands of ballots were in vote-count limbo on Super Tuesday. Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that 49,000 votes will be thrown out.

On Super Tuesday, Barnett Zitron, our Strategic Director, filed the following dispatch from Los Angeles:

The process is this: decline-to-state voters who wish to exercise their franchise in the Democratic Primary must ask the poll-workers for a Democratic ballot. Fair enough.

Here’s the trouble: In the voting booth, voters must then mark a bubble on the ballot that confirms the voter is indeed voting on a Democratic ballot. If they fail to mark, their ballots go uncounted. And further, if a voter neglects to fill in this bubble, a voting machine will not return the ballot because the vote is counted as an under-vote. In Los Angeles County alone, 776,000 voters are susceptible to double bubble trouble.

Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Barack Obama was, according the California Secretary of State, 405,894 votes. On the eve of Super Tuesday, it was unclear whether or not this Double Bubble Trouble would affect the election’s outcome. It didn’t, apparently, but regardless, losing 49,000 votes is 49,000 voices not being heard. The response of acting Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan? “Unfortunately we are not in a position to count those votes because of the limitations of the system and the ballot layout itself,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “We want voters to know that we hear loud and clear that this ballot layout is confusing and we need to identify a less confusing method for crossover voting for future primaries.”

One clarification from our Super Tuesday report (and thanks to commenter Robert Earle for the heads-up): a nonpartisan voter votes on a nonpartisan ballot, not a Democratic one. In our exclusive Super Tuesday interview with Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, we showed an image of a Democratic ballot, which only has one Double Bubble option. Instead, we should have shown a decline-to-state ballot which had the option of filling in either the American Independent party, or the Democratic Party.

City Attorney Delgadillo told us on Super Tuesday that he hoped the intent of voters that ran into Double Bubble Trouble would be respected. Looks like he’s not going to get his wish. If you missed it before, here’s our Super Tuesday interview with Delgadillo in its entirety:

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