March 3, 2008 - Election officials make it count
Paper: Whittier Daily News, The (CA)
Title: Election officials make it count
Date: March 3, 2008
Author: Alison Hewitt, Staff Writer
County election officials announced Monday they tallied nearly 80 percent of the uncounted "double bubble" presidential ballots cast by nonpartisan voters in February's primary election.
Officials had estimated 50,000 uncounted ballots, but that total increased to 59,174 when a final count, including provisional ballots, was taken.
The count, completed Sunday, had no effect on the outcome of the primary.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton received 51 percent of the 47,153 votes that were counted. Barack Obama gained 42 percent of those same ballots.
Just over 12,000 votes could not be interpreted, said Dean Logan, the acting registrar-recorder/county clerk.
"You never want a situation when votes cannot be counted," Logan said. "But given the situation and the extraordinary effort that went into interpreting voter intent, I'm very satisfied with being able to count 80 percent of these."
The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve the final election count today. The supervisors also could approve a new $2.9 million help-desk system to help Logan's department answer the public's questions faster and more consistently, Logan said.
Logan initially believed none of the "double bubble" votes could be counted in cases where non-partisan voters had failed to fill in a bubble specifying in which party's presidential race they were casting a "crossover" ballot.
The ballot designated some of the same bubbles to candidates in the Democratic and American Independent parties, the only two parties accepting non-partisan votes.
Conversations with the Secretary of State's Office and county counsel helped Logan develop a plan to legally interpret and count most of the votes, precinct by precinct. Votes in bubbles 11-15, which were assigned to Democratic candidates, were all counted. Votes in bubbles 8-10, which were assigned to both parties, were counted only if voter roles showed all the nonpartisan voters from a precinct asked to crossover Democratic.
The Courage Campaign initially threatened to sue the county if more ballots were not counted, but chair Rick Jacobs said he was pleased with the county's efforts.
But voting rights blogger Brad Friedman criticized the final count by saying the thousands of voters were disenfranchised because their votes went uncounted. He proposed all the double-bubble votes be counted as Democratic votes, "with the number of unaccounted-for (nonpartisan American Independent) votes in any precinct then being subtracted from each candidate's total."
Logan said that did not appear to be legal.
The new figures do not change who won the Democratic primary in the county. Among all voters, Clinton took 55 percent of the vote, compared with Obama's 41 percent. Clinton also won in all of the San Gabriel Valley's congressional districts among the uncounted nonpartisan voters, except in the district of Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, where Obama beat her 55 percent to 32 percent.
Voters, poll workers and media called the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's office on election day with questions about the "double bubble" and many other issues, Logan said. But because the office uses a paper-based help-desk system, response time is slowed, he said.
"The (new) system will walk (the operator) through, scripting, 'Here's what you need to ask next, and if the answer is 'X, here is the person you need to contact,' " Logan said. "That makes sure people get an immediate and consistent response, and we get a real-time report."
Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, said feedback from voters and people from his office testing the system during the last election showed the need for improvement. People calling in with questions complained of problems like being on hold for half an hour, or receiving an incorrect answer about how to vote by mail.
"There were people who called in to us to complain, and people testing the system for us were quite shocked," Jacobs said. "Anything they can do to get people the right information and to help them understand how to vote when they show up is vital."
Record Number: 8443963
(c) 2008 The Whittier Daily News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.