Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Double Bubble" trouble in California

This is part II of a conversation with my friend John McCarthy, who is an election reformer, computer whiz and Obama supporter in California.

Some “voting irregularities” create presidents. The current White House occupant may well owe both his terms to voting screw-ups, or worse, in Florida and Ohio.

Who knows what the consequences might be of strange-goings-on in the California primary last Tuesday. A delegate here or there could determine who the nominee of the Democratic Party is this summer. And that could determine who sits in the White House a year from now.

So what’s with irregularities in California?

My friend John McCarthy, who worked on the Obama campaign and who has also been involved in voting reform nationally, described to me the problems, particularly for independents who wanted to vote in the open Democratic primary. Obama, it should be noted, drew two-thirds of the independent vote in a state where 20 percent of the electorate identifies itself as independent.

John reports that in some places, independents were told flat out, and wrongly, that they couldn’t vote.

Then there was the so-called “double bubble” issue. Independents, or “decline-to-state” voters, who wanted to vote in the Democratic primary asked for and, with some exceptions, were given ballots. In voting, they marked the oval (“bubble”) next to the candidate of their choice. The problem was that many were unaware of another bubble that had to be marked indicating that, as an independent, they wanted to vote in the Democratic primary. Even if they happened t see the second bubble, it must have seemed a strange request, since they had just asked for and been given the ballot.

Too bad for them if they failed to mark the second “bubble.” Their votes were disqualified.

Preliminary reports of the 784,000 “decline-to-state” ballots cast in Los Angeles County show that about half were disqualified, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

There were some technical problems too, John reports. A number of touch screens frooze up, which was mostly embarrassing.

John says that voting reform efforts should require tally audits in every election, not just in close ones or in elections where problems have arisen. He says that, minimally, one percent of each precinct’s votes should be hand counted. Further, the closer the race, the more extensive the audit should be. And, any discrepancy should trigger a still wider audit.

The argument for audits is clear, he says. They discourage fraud, they make sure elections are fair and they detect not just fraud but technical difficulties.

It’s shocking that there are still half a dozen states (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee) that have no paper trail of their voting.

The good news is that a dogged campaign at the state and national levels is demanding audits, which would require paper trails.

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