A legal challenge is being mounted by The Courage Campaign, partnered with Common Cause and MoveOn.org over ballots given to "decline-to-state" (DTS) voters, where voters that neglect to fill out a special "bubble" would not have their votes counted.
In a SFGate article published today regarding the high turnout of voters in the California vote last night, it mentioned that there was a legal challenge being mounted by a California grassroots group called The Courage Campaign, partnered with Common Cause and MoveOn.org, against the Los Angeles County voting system, charging that confusing procedures in that major urban area could disenfranchise the estimated 776,000 voters there who declined to state a party affiliation.
A little research and few searches brought up the information needed to understand what had happened and some confusion caused by the ballots in question (shown below).
The top part, labeled number 6 says "This Box for Non Partisan Voters Only. Vote for One"
The options are "American Independent and Democratic."
Below that are the Democratic choices.
The Courage Campaign is calling this "double bubble trouble"
Almost 20 percent of California voters are DTS's , which means the "Decline-to-State" a party affiliation and according to the Courage Campaign complaint and website, includes approximately 776,000 voters live in Los Angeles County.
To vote for President, like other DTS voters across the state, LA County DTS voters had to ask for a "Democratic Party ballot" on Tuesday
However, in Los Angeles County -- and only Los Angeles County -- these DTS voters were given a special "Democratic Party" ballot that required voters not only to fill out a bubble for their favorite Democratic Party presidential candidate, but ALSO to fill in a bubble at the top that they wanted to vote "Democratic" -- a redundant requirement. According to the Los Angeles County ROV, if the DTS voter didn't fill in the redundant "Democratic" bubble, their vote would not be counted.
This first challenges to the design of this ballot started while the polls were still open, by progressive advocates - and the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama who said that it would "discourage and confused millions of 'decline-to-state' voters."
Barack Obama's campaign had sent out an email reminder to their supporters before the voting began stating "If you declined to select a political party when you registered to vote, you can still vote for Barack Obama if you request a Democratic ballot from the poll worker. Make sure you mark "Democratic" in the appropriate space or the vote might not be counted."
These DTS ballots have been in use since 2002, but with widespread concern over disenfranchising voters on Super Tuesday, it caught the eye of Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo issued a statement over the "Double Bubble trouble":
"I have heard numerous reports from voters throughout the City of Los Angeles which point to wide-spread voter confusion over Los Angeles County's so-called 'double-bubble' Decline-to-State non-partisan voter ballot. We understand this ballot is unique to the County of Los Angeles.
"In light of these reports, I am calling upon Secretary of State Debra Bowen and L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan to review the county's unique and potentially confusing ballot design.
"It would be unfortunate if non-partisan voters, confused by the county's unique "double bubble" ballot design, did not have their vote counted.
"I urge the Secretary of State and County Registrar to do everything within their power to ensure that every vote is counted, and to carefully weigh voter intent against this confusing Los Angeles County ballot design.
"Los Angeles' non-partisan voters must not be disenfranchised because of a confusing ballot design."
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan received a letter from an attorney with Courage Campaign, Steve Reyes, Associate Attorney, Kaufman Downing LLP,citing election code laws and sections that would be their grounds for legal action if votes were not counted due to the initial top bubble not being filled in, which prompted him to contact Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, explaining the steps the county has taken to educate voters to fill in that top bubble.
Mr. Logan stated before the election that he did not think most voters would skip the required ballot entry. Primary elections in 2004 and 2006 had the same requirement. He went on to say "It would almost be counterintuitive for someone to miss. "We have put this information in voter education materials, and we've provided real clear instructions."
To which Rick Jacobs, president and Founder of the Courage Campaign responded, "Just ask the people of Florida about the role of intuition in counting votes. It's already tough enough to vote in the Democratic primary for president. With three quarters of a million "Decline-to-State" voters in Los Angeles County, the least the county registrar of voters can do is guarantee that the ballots are accurately counted."
The attorney for Courage Campaign, Steve Reyes, then sent another letter to the Registrar's office, on February 4, 2008, this time with a list "demands" of what was to be implemented and reserving their "legal rights".
Mr. Logan and Mr. Finley,
I write to memorialize our conversation earlier and to outline a number of responses that your office should immediately undertake to remedy a situation that will have the potential of disenfranchising a great number of voters who are trying to navigate a voting process that is already confusing to many.
We have confirmed with your office that in fact, voters who have not marked circles 5 or 6 and who have requested a partisan ballot will not have their vote counted. We have also confirmed that the Inka-Vote system, as implemented, will be unable to tabulate their votes for President and that in effect, those votes will be lost completely.
Our client, Courage Campaign, therefore demands that the Los Angeles County Registrar-Record/County Clerk and the Secretary of State immediately implement the following:
1.) Distribute recorded messages from the Registrar's office to Decline to State/Nonpartisan voters reminding them that they must fill in circle numbers 5 or 6 (the bubble stating they are voting Democratic or AI) if they request a Democratic or American Independent ballot. The notice should also inform them that failure to do so will result in their choice for president not counting. These calls should commence tonight and be distributed throughout the day tomorrow.
2.) Distribute press releases to the English news media and language media for those groups covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act with the same message provided in item number one above.
3.) Instruct "rovers" and other polling place supervisors to specifically instruct pollworkers to remind voters that they must fill in circles 5 or 6 or their vote for President will not count.
4.) Immediately distribute public service announcements consistent with the information mentioned in item one, above.
5.) Permit Courage Campaign volunteers to observe the sorting and vote counting process so that we may assess the extent of the problem caused by the issues with DTS voting.
These steps are reasonable responses to the issues raised in our letter to your office earlier this morning. Once again, our client reserves all of its legal rights. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Steve J. Reyes
Kaufman Downing LLP
If that isn't enough, the LA Times lists more "glitches" in yesterdays voting in California yesterday, including but definitely not limited to, two Los Angeles-area polling places were shuttered when voters went there to cast their ballots, causing some to wait more than an hour to vote at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Los Angeles.
At the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard, officials didn't get voting equipment until 12:20 p.m. -- more than five hours after the polls opened.
That is only the beginning of the problems in California though.
Registrars predicted as much as 25 percent of the overall vote may go uncounted on Election Night because although more than 2.2 million mail-in ballots have been returned to registrars' offices, there are 3 million still outstanding.
Late-arriving absentee ballots will be tallied only after the precinct ballots are counted, and then only after a painstaking verification process.
In Riverside County, a printing error scored as many as 60,000 absentee ballots so deeply that they fell apart when voters removed them from envelopes.
All in all, it seems that the Florida's voter confusion yesterday is small in comparison to the California debacle.