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Voting Technology

The Los Angeles “Double Bubble” Fiasco

Testimony by Kim Alexander, President & Founder
California Voter Foundation

Joint Legislative Hearing examining Problems Faced by Voters
at the 2008 Presidential Primary Election

Ronald Reagan Building, 300 South Spring Street, Los Angeles
March 7, 2008

Good afternoon.  I am Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization advancing the responsible use of technology to improve the democratic process, online at

Thank you for conducting this hearing.  The California Voter Foundation received numerous calls and emails from voters reporting a variety of problems. A compilation of the email messages was submitted to committee staff earlier this week.

I, like many others, was astonished to hear that tens of thousands of California voters were going to be disenfranchised because of Los Angeles County’s ballot design and vote counting process.  It was absolutely heartbreaking, especially when you consider how much excitement and what a high turnout we had in the Presidential primary.  For the first time in as long as anyone could remember, California voters had a voice in selecting the presidential nominees.  It is estimated that nine million voters statewide participated in the election, two million of them here in Los Angeles County.

LA is the largest voting jurisdiction in the state and nation.  Los Angeles County votes routinely comprise one quarter of all votes cast in statewide elections.  LA’s decline-to-state voters were ten percent of the county’s voters on February 5.  This group of voters typically accounts for two percent of all ballots cast in statewide elections.  So it is a significant portion of the state’s voters that has been repeatedly disenfranchised because of bad ballot design.

I have three suggestions:

1) There needs to be a full accounting of all of the Decline-to-State ballots;

2) There needs to be a thorough, outside investigation; and

3) Los Angeles needs to move to a paper ballot voting system where the candidates and choices appear directly on the ballot.

1.  There needs to be a full accounting of all of the Decline-to-State ballots.

The Secretary of State requested, in her February 14 letter to Acting Registrar of Voters Dean Logan, that the county determine “the number of ballots on a precinct-by-precinct basis, on which DTS voters:

If such an analysis has not yet been conducted it should be done now, and the results made public.  An analysis of the June 2006 primary ballots should also be conducted to determine how many voters were disenfranchised in that election as well.

The county should also analyze the decline-to-state (or DTS) votes to discover whether the undervote rate differed between vote-by-mail and precinct voters.

Providing an accounting of how many DTS ballots overall were cast, and whether they contained one, two or no marks for President will provide the transparency we need to put the public’s mind at ease.  Without that transparency, questions will linger, doubts will fester, conspiracy theories will be developed and voters will continue to lose confidence in the voting process.  LA needs to lay out all the numbers for the public to see and show the public that there is no attempt here to hide anything.

We have also urged the county to count and release the results of the 12,000 votes that could not be counted with 100 percent accuracy.  I was pleased to learn yesterday that the Registrar of Voters is making this count publicly available.  This data needs to be released in an Excel format as well so that the public can fully analyze those votes and people can draw their own conclusions about whether they would have had an impact on the delegate count or not.

2.  There needs to be a thorough, outside investigation.

It’s always hard to see what’s missing.  And what’s been missing in L.A. for the past four primary elections is a large number of decline-to-state crossover votes.  The ballot design used in Los Angeles in February has been used in three prior elections.  It pre-dates the county’s Ink-a-Vote system and was used when the county was still using the punch card Votomatic system.

News coverage of this fiasco has repeatedly noted that it’s unlikely the uncounted votes would affect the outcome of the election.  Whether that’s true or not is beside the point; people who show up to vote want to know that their votes are being counted.

While I understand the ballot design predates the term of Mr. Logan, there are many people who work in the elections department, and certainly some of them were aware that there was a significant undervote problem for decline-to-state voters.  What did they know and when did they know it?  That’s what needs to be determined.  Did Los Angeles election officials go into this election season knowing that there was a good chance many decline-to-state voters would not have their presidential votes counted?

It appears that that was the case, otherwise why would the county have made such a significant effort to step up pollworker training and voter education?  Indeed, in a February 18 Los Angeles Times article, Richard Paddock reported that:

Paul Drugan, Logan's executive assistant, said election officials had foreseen the problem months earlier and had been educating voters about the requirement. He dismissed the concerns of anxious voters who were worried that their ballots would not count.

"Is it a perfect system?" he asked. "No, it is not. Elections are an imperfect beast."

But this is not simply “imperfection”.  It appears to be systematic disenfranchisement of an entire class of voters, and it’s been going on for six years!

According to statements made by Dean Logan to the LA County Board of Supervisors on February 6:

It is hard to believe this was simply an “honest mistake” when it appears staff members of the elections department may have known there was an chronic undervoting problem for decline-to-state voters due to the ballot layout.  Some may wonder whether this was a deliberate attempt to suppress the vote for a certain class of voters; at the least, this may be a case of malfeasance, which is wrongdoing or misconduct in the act of public affairs.

An independent investigation is warranted, one that is conducted by an entity outside of Los Angeles County, such as the Secretary of State, the Legislature or the State Auditor.

3.  Los Angeles needs to move to a paper ballot voting system where the candidates and choices appear directly on the ballot.

Voting for all Los Angeles County voters is more difficult than it is for voters in the rest of the state.  Voters everywhere else cast ballots where candidates’ names and proposition numbers are on the ballot.  For all other California voters, there is no question of voter intent. There is no extra step to verify your ballot choices once you’ve marked your ballot.  For Los Angeles voters to verify their choices they must check that the ballot position they marked corresponds correctly to their choice in the ballot booklet.  It is unfair for LA voters to have to go to these extra lengths to verify their choices, and it’s no wonder that this voting system has been derided as “Stink-a-Vote”. 

While I understand there are cost concerns involved, many other large counties in California that have multiple language ballots are using ballots with candidates names on them.  Long Beach, for example, right here in Los Angeles County, uses Hart’s optical scan ballots. 

Once again, my three suggestions are:

1) a full accounting of all of the Decline-to-State ballots;

2) a thorough, outside investigation; and

3) Los Angeles needs to move to a paper ballot voting system where the candidates and choices appear directly on the ballot.

Thank you.

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This page was first published on March 6, 2008 | Last updated on March 6, 2008
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