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CA: Some Ballot Trouble for Independents

By Robert Barnes
The crush of new independent voters in California is causing problems at the polls, with widespread complaints that those voters aren't being offered ballots that allow them to vote for the presidential candidates.

Nearly one in five California voters is now classified as one who "declined to state" a party preference. California Republicans have restricted their primary to those who register as members of the GOP. Democrats allow independents to vote in their contest, but many voters don't seem to know they have to ask for a Democratic ballot, and some poll workers have not been clear on the rules, election officials said tonight.

"There have been scattered reports of problems either of some voters not being aware of their rights or precinct workers'' not offering the ballots to those who qualify, said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen. "The county registrars have alerted their workers quickly'' when reports of the problems began to arise.

It was hard to tell how many independent voters who wanted to vote in the Democratic primary were unable to. "I think it's a small problem, unless it's an extremely close election,'' said Contra Costa County Clerk Stephen Weir. He said that independent voters who discovered they received a nonpartisan ballot without the presidential contest could exchange it for a Democratic ballot if they had not already voted and turned it in.

San Diego County Registrar of Voters Deborah Seiler said that the system hasn't changed since the last presidential primary but that the number of independent voters has. In her county, the increase has been from 12 percent to 23 percent. "It appears to me to be a widespread problem,'' Seiler said. "It's the bulk of calls we've gotten.''

The Barack Obama campaign is likely to be most worried about the problem, as independents in previous state primaries have favored the Illinois senator over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

By Washington Post editors  |  February 5, 2008; 8:28 PM ET
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Posted by: Kaden pxrer | April 10, 2008 4:01 AM | Report abuse

I feel absolutely terrible. I voted for the first time yesterday as an Independent, and I was supposed to have marked a bubble above the list of the candidates names. I did not do that. However, I am a little upset with the people at the polling site. They could have mentioned to me that if I wanted my vote to count, blotch the bubble on top. I did not get any instruction. Yes, it is my fault that I did not read the directions, but it would have been helpful if they had mentioned something...anything.

Posted by: dravrah4 | February 6, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I would just like to say:

1) I am a woman.
2) I am white.
3) I am an independent.
4) I TRIED to vote for Barack Obama today, but because of faulty instructions at the polls, my vote was NOT counted.

I know this because I became concerned and called the LA County Voting office, and asked about the proper procedure. I learned that there is a special section of the ballot that independents have to fill out that registered Democrats do not. When the polling place volunteers asked if I knew how to vote with the ballot, I told them I did not (I just moved to California a few months ago). They instructed me, but left out this key information. So I voted for Barack and then submitted my ballot. The machine initially rejected my ballot and said I had made "no selection." But there was clearly a mark next to #13 for Obama, so the volunteer simply overrode the machine. The volunteers didn't know how to instruct nonpartisan voters to use the ballots and didn't understand why the machine was rejecting our ballots. So, because our ballots were incomplete - I later learned - they would not be counted and there is nothing we can do. I am curious how many independents this problem affected. I must say, I am sorely disappointed in our "democratic" process - it is truly a failure in so many ways.

Posted by: mujon4 | February 6, 2008 1:50 AM | Report abuse

Blame the Republicans, as usual. The rules are made by the legislature, and you know who they are. I voted early as an absentee in Oakland and can only hope that my vote was counted.

Posted by: bhs3 | February 6, 2008 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Hard not to suspect a vast Hillary-wing conspiracy here.

Posted by: elatia | February 5, 2008 11:39 PM | Report abuse

I am a registered Dem. I was one of the first to visit my precint voting site this morning. The workers were clearly not trained. I took the ballot they gave me to the booth and then realized it was a an American Independent ballot. I took that back. The workers seemed confused that there were more than one type of ballot. The supervisor came over and showed them that there were different ballots depending on how you are registered. Seems like they should have at least known that before the polls opened.

Posted by: mullinsr | February 5, 2008 11:18 PM | Report abuse

I think this is going to be a problem. I have several co-workers who are independents, they somehow got the impression that independents couldn't vote in a Democratic primary, thus they all stayed home. As far as I know, they are for Obama.

Posted by: neturityhank | February 5, 2008 10:52 PM | Report abuse

i had a feeling this would be a problem. i voted early today in berkeley, ca and the poll people were a little stumped when i said was an independent. i had to tell them i was voting in the democratic primary... but they were not exactly explaining anything to me. i pretty much had to figure it out on my own. i'm pretty sure that if poll workers in berkeley are not doing a great job of making this process clear then it could swell to be a big problem throughout the state.

Posted by: pascaltrien | February 5, 2008 10:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm an L.A. County independent voter who did not check the top box when voting in the Dem. primary. The poll workers did not inform me of the necessity of this and I am irate that my vote may not be counted on this technicality in what seems to be a close and important race. There is no ambiguity whatsoever as to my intention. My vote, and the thousands of others doubtless in my position, should be tallied.

Posted by: medwardfernan | February 5, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse

I just voted in Los Angeles. There is a trick box that requires you to check it BEFORE voting for a Democratic candidate, if you are not registered as a Democrat. I READ WELL and I SPEAK ENGLISH, and it would have been easy to miss otherwise. This is inexcusable; there is no reason to have that box unless one is trying to trick the voter. After the scandalous votes in the last national election, this is outrageous. The people devising this ballot should be excoriated, and the results should be challenged. A vote should be counted even IF the box is not checked. DIRTY TRICKS should not be the province of the Democrats; otherwise they lose all moral authority.

steven fierberg

Posted by: fierbiz | February 5, 2008 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Hillary is just like a Republican: she does well when turnout is low, does well when the young are apathetic, does well when independents don't come to the Democrats, and her fortunes go up wherever people are prevented from voting.

Yep, just like a Republican.

Posted by: kevrobb | February 5, 2008 10:12 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter who is complaining. Everyone should be able to vote, and every vote cast should be counted.

What so many people don't seem to realize is that the Primaries are party run events. They get to make their rules as they wish. They don't even have to have Primaries. If they register as Independents then they are opting out. That the Dems allow them a vote is out of kindness...they don't have to. (No one expects kindness from a Rep.)

Lastly, to be clear on the nature of complaints...there is a difference between what the Dems complain of and what the Reps complain of. The Reps claim fradulent voting and there as been only a couple of cases uncovered...and those were mostly honest mistakes. The Dems are troubled by Voter Suppression where people are prevented from voting or their votes are not counted. The evidence that the Reps have done this and have broken the laws to do so are incontrovertable.

Posted by: palmiter_gene | February 5, 2008 10:10 PM | Report abuse

dear harried -

As a forty-something woman, I resent it when it is assumed my vote goes to Hillary. I voted for Obama. Please don't play demographic queen. Thank you.

Posted by: VoiceofReason5 | February 5, 2008 9:46 PM | Report abuse

I know where New York went!
Now they start to complain about California?

Look, it's gonna be close'a in California, but I think the gals will win!

Posted by: harried | February 5, 2008 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Who's complaining now?

Posted by: harried | February 5, 2008 9:34 PM | Report abuse

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