"Bubble Trouble" Leads to Uncounted Ballots in L.A. County

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Los Angeles County Supervisors are instructing the Registrar of Voters to count as many nonpartisan mis-votes from Tuesday's primary as possible. Molly Peterson says it's not clear that's going to happen.

Molly Peterson: Early results show that about half the 189,000 nonpartisan voters in yesterday's balloting did not indicate a presidential preference. But the county still doesn't know whether the other half of nonpartisan voters chose a candidate. It might never know. Because candidates for different parties shared the same bubble on the ballot, figuring out who those voters picked might be impossible.

The lawyers for Courage Campaign criticized the ballot's format. The group's threatening to take legal action if the registrar's office doesn't count every possible nonpartisan vote during the next 28 days. USC Law School's Kareem Crayton says it'll be hard to win an administrative or court challenge on this issue, unless, for example, it's possible to show that every other county has rejected L.A.'s way of voting.

Kareem Crayton: That's the kind of case where the court might be more concerned about trying to step in. But in this case, it's hard, just based on that. That there were people who said, well, maybe this isn't the best idea – people always say that, is usually the response to that argument. And when it happens, the court says look, they may have been right, but it really is up to the discretion of the registrar.

Peterson: That discretion is necessary, says L.A.'s former elections chief Conny McCormack. Every county's vote is different. In a city the size of L.A., McCormack says, it's easier to give all nonpartisans the same ballot.

Conny McCormack: Compared to some of the other counties that frankly were giving out the wrong ones, where in L.A. you got the nonpartisan, and you can go into any voting booth. I think it's a privacy issue, and I also think it's a simpler method for the poll workers, and the simpler means less mistakes usually.

Peterson: The acting registrar, Dean Logan, has said that if a hand count of 1% of votes determines a possible impact on the result of the Democratic contest, he'll tally all the crossover votes he can. No matter what happens with the primary, the advocacy group Courage Campaign wants Logan to revisit the "double bubble" ballot design so his office can prevent this problem from happening again.