Some Nonpartisan Voters Experience Problems at Polls

Before the polls closed in Los Angeles County, some political groups and Democratic lawmakers started worrying that nonpartisan voters' ballots won't be correctly counted. KPCC's Molly Peterson says some voters are worried too.

Molly Peterson: Jeremy Wilkins declined to state a party affiliation when he registered in California, but he wanted to vote in today's Democratic primary, and he's eligible to do it. At his polling place, poll workers gave him a Democratic ballot. Then they took it back, and substituted a nonpartisan one. It had a bubble on it for "Democratic."

Jeremy Wilkins: Why would there even be a choice of what party to vote for?

Peterson: Wilkins skipped the bubble. Wrong move, says acting county registrar Dean Logan. Here's what Logan says Decline to State voters were supposed to do.

Dean Logan: If they do want to cross over for a Democrat, they're issued the nonpartisan ballot, and then directed to the Democratic voting booth. And when they put their ballot into the vote recorder voting device, the first thing that appears on the ballot is a party selection. And they have to mark the party selection, and there's only one selection available in the Democratic booth, which is Democrat, and then they go on and vote for the presidential candidate.

Peterson: Wilkins didn't know that, and now he's frustrated and angry.

Wilkins: The whole thing seems way more complicated than it needs to be.

Peterson: A group called the Courage Campaign told L.A. County the same thing, in a letter yesterday complaining about the burden on Decline to State voters. Courage Campaign's founder Rick Jacobs called it illegal.

Rick Jacobs: It took them some time during the day to understand how complex it is. And by last night they did agree to do extra public service announcements, they agreed to inform people at the polls about this.

Peterson: The county's public service announcements hit the airwaves in Spanish and in English.

[PSA in Spanish]

PSA (in English): Decline to State nonpartisan voters must mark the party option, or their vote for president will not be counted.

Peterson: But Jacobs says that outreach can't fix other complications. Take, for example, the official sample ballot the county provided to nonpartisan voters. That booklet did instruct voters to mark a party selection before choosing a president, but the instruction was sandwiched between paragraphs about voting by mail. L.A. County Registrar Logan admits that could have misled some readers.

Logan: I can see– I'm looking at it myself. I can see how there could be some, some confusion.

Peterson: Still, Logan pointed out that this voting system, Inkavote-Plus, has been in place since California switched to a modified closed primary, including in the presidential primary four years ago.

Logan: It's not been challenged in the past.

Peterson: That could be because in the past, far fewer people faced this dilemma. Four years ago, only 207,000 of the two and a half million Decline to State voters statewide voted in the Democratic primary. Los Angeles voter Jeremy Wilkins sat out that election.

Wilkins: Last time, I thought everybody was boring. To me last time, it was a vote between nobody that I cared about, so I just waited to see how it went down in the end.

Peterson: It could take time to determine how this election goes down. The county has four weeks to certify the results. Courage Campaign's Rick Jacobs says those 28 days give him hope that even if the registrar doesn't immediately count unmarked nonpartisan votes, the county could still, eventually, discern the voters' intent.

Jacobs: The best outcome will be number one, to count all the votes, and number two, to change the rules, so we don't have bubble trouble.

Peterson: Jacobs pledged to deploy observers to monitor the ballot-counting process in Norwalk starting tonight.

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