Ballot Confusion May Have Skewed Primary

This story was written by Elizabeth Kenigsberg, Daily Trojan
A week after Super Tuesday, many ballots cast throughout Los Angeles remain uncounted.

Some USC students are alleging voter disenfranchisement after experiencing registration problems at on-campus polling stations, particularly Marks Tower.

Confusion about proper ballot casting and polling locations was initially blamed for the elections difficulties experienced at USC and other parts of Los Angeles.

A number of students whose names did not appear on the voter rosters, or who registered as "decline-to-state" instead of with a specific party, were relegated to casting provisional votes.

More than 85 percent of students who voted at Marks Tower used provisional ballots, which are generally counted two to three weeks after an election, said Robert Huff, election service supervisor at the Los Angeles County Registrars office.

Huff said the purpose of provisional ballots, which are given to voters who cast votes in the wrong precinct or who register less than 15 days before election day, are intended to "make sure that everyone in L.A. County gets to vote."

"We virtually had an entire university vote provisionally," said Bret VandenBos, president of the USC chapter of Students for Barack Obama and a sophomore majoring in screenwriting. "What occurred Tuesday was blatant disenfranchisement."

The Political Students Assembly and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics held a panel discussion Monday night about the outcome of the presidential primaries. The panel briefly addressed how the Los Angeles County primary results are currently being reviewed because of confusion about proper ballot casting.

One of the panelists, Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at KNBC and a senior scholar at the School of Public Policy, Planning, and Development, said more than 90,000 ballots are under review from the acting-registrar/recorder county clerk of Los Angeles County, Dean Logan, because of the "double-bubble crisis."

This crisis was the failure of non-partisan voters to indicate with which party they wished to vote by filling in Box 6 on the ballot in addition to their selected candidate.

Jason Gromski, a member of the USC chapter of Students for Barack Obama and a graduate student in mechanical engineering, sent a letter to the Los Angeles County Registrar demanding a recount of the independent votes cast Tuesday.

Gromski said he wrote the letter after talking to many USC students whose votes might have been void because they were not informed of all the steps necessary to complete the voting process as a decline-to-state voter.

California election codes permit decline-to-state voters, who are people who do not identify with a political party, to participate in the Democratic Party or the American Independent Party primaries. These voters, however, must indicate which party primary they are voting in by filling in Box 6 on the ballot.

"Talking to voters throughout the day, I saw disappointment, gratitude and surprise when I informed them about the Box 6 requirement," Gromski wrote. "The ones who had voted said the poll workers did not inform them of the requirement."

Huff said the primary problem with provisional ballots is that voters fail to read the instructions completely. He said polling stations are committed to providing ample information about voting requirements, regardless of party affiliation.

Toni Natalizio, a sophomore majoring in cinema-television critical studies, did not vote after she was given a provisional ballot because her name did not appear on the voter registration roster at an on-campus polling site.

"I didn't know what to do - I just didn't vote," Natalizio said.

Natalizio, who considers herself an independent, registered as declineto-state so she could vote in the Democratic Presidential Primary. Although she was given a ballot, Natalizio didn't feel comfortable voting provisionally.

"I registered right before break, and I thought I'd be able to vote for Obama, and I wasn't able to," Natalizio said. "I thought independent meant I could vote for whoever I wanted to ... I think I was just misinformed about what independent meant, and I think a lot of other people around campus were, too."

Some self-declared independents registered with the American Independent Party, a conservative, California-based party.

The presidential ballot for independents who voted in the Democratic primary was the same for those who voted in the American Independent primary.

"The biggest impact that the American Independent Party has is the people who accidentally register [as] American Independent instead of as declined-to-state," said panelist and vice chairman of the California Republican Party, Jon Fleischman.

VandenBos, however, said some nonpartisan voters might have been misinformed, thereby prompting them to register with and cast votes on behalf of the American Independent Party

"Independents shouldn't [be instructed to vote as] American Independents," VandenBos said. "That poll workers actually thought students were asking for this is absurd."

Nelson Chen, head of campus relations for the USC chapter of CalPIRG, which registered more than 1,000 USC students in its registration week that ended

Jan. 22, said some of the people it registered might have accidentally cast votes as American Independents because they misunderstood the state's policies.

Chen attributed the confusion between being an independent voter, meaning one who is not affiliated to a particular party, and being an American Independent to the similar wording used.

"It's just bad wording; people get confused when it's independent or declined to state," Chen said.

While CalPIRG did not report that a significant number of students registered as American Independents, Chen said the group might not have been able to effectively explain the differences between declined-to-state voters and American Independent voters.

"We might have let that happen and not caught it. We had hundreds of people [registering], and we might have just had to send them off [before explaining the differences]," he said.

Chen also said some students might not have found their names on the roster at Marks Tower because they went to the wrong polling station. Other polling places for USC students included the Catholic Center and Roger Williams Baptist Church.

"I think one of the main issues [from Tuesday] is that people didn't go to their correct precincts," Chen said. "When people registered on campus, I think a lot of people assumed to go to Marks."

Chen said CalPIRG displayed a map on Trousdale on voting day so voters could check their polling places, and that the group also tried to make it clear during voter registration that there were a few different polling places for people in the USC area.

Supporters of the Obama campaign, which had a strong turnout among independent and young voters, have been particularly adamant about conducting a recount as polls show Obama is favored among decline-to-state voters. Declined-to-state voters make up more than 19 percent of the more than 15,000,000 registered voters in California.

Though some pre-primary polls predicted a fairly close race between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Clinton won the Golden State with more than 50 percent of the vote.

As the primary calendar heads into its final stretch with the mid-Atlantic states voting today and many influential super delegates holding back on their endorsements, the two Democratic frontrunners are in a virtual dead heat.
But whether the recount will make a difference in the delegate distribution remains unclear.

© 2008 Daily Trojan via U-WIRE