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Apparently, The Only Thing More Difficult Than Building A Subway To The Beach Is Casting A Vote

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An Op-Ed follow up to this morning's news...

Via The LA Times, it seems all is not well with LA's super Tuesday results:

Across Los Angeles County, many nonpartisan voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary have learned to their dismay that their votes in the presidential contest did not matter. ... {California Democratic Party spokesman} had harsh words for L.A. County's voting system.

"It's a terrible ballot design," he said. "It requires the voter to take an extra step. The purpose of a democracy is to make a person's vote easy to count. If it turns out that they were aware of this problem previously, then somebody should be held accountable."

Hmmm, ya think?
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According to the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Los Angeles is the only county in the state that requires decline-to-state voters to fill in an additional bubble on a ballot if they choose to vote in the Democratic or American Independent primary. It has used similar systems in three previous elections. It also is the only county in the state not to have the candidates' names printed on the ballot, a factor that will make it difficult to determine voters' intentions.

Man, they aren't kidding either. I think I spent more time in the Ballot Booth making absolutely certain that I was marking the right box than I did reading about the issues prior to the big day.

Dean Logan, acting Los Angeles County registrar, estimates that about 100,000 nonpartisan voters cast ballots without marking a party bubble. How many of them intended to vote for a presidential candidate is unclear -- some may have wanted to vote only on the propositions on the ballot. Logan, who said earlier that he would tabulate as many of the uncounted votes as legally possible, said Friday that his office is attempting to determine how many votes went uncounted and hopes to have an estimate early next week.

If my experience was any indication, poorly designed ballots weren't the only problem facing unaffiliated and inexperienced voters. Misinformation, poor organization and general lack of electoral consistency probably do as much to damage our ailing electoral process as the inability of government officials to design ballots that don't require degrees from Cal Tech to understand.

To start, my polling station in Highland Park seems to have been protected by the same spell they use to make sure Muggles can't find Hogwarts*. Ominously, the front door was locked and the lights were dimmed as if the local muggers wanted something a little more romantic. We walked around the church grounds in a futile search for polling station for several minutes, coming this close to heading back home to double check the address. See, when you go to the front door of the church that both your print voter guide and the internet confirms is your polling station, you expect to see a big sign that says "VOTE HERE" hanging above entrance, right?

Fortunately, some observant local skateboard kids took pity and told us we had to go around the back, through a narrow alley way, down some creepy stairs, into a basement without any lights, and finally to a janitor's closet with a sign on the door that said "Beware of The Ocelot," in order to cast our vote**.

Okay, perhaps not quite that bad, though it was fairly ridiculous that there wasn't a giant sign out front clearly explaining where voters were supposed to go. But even that inconvenience wasn't as frustrating as the scene that awaited us once we actually found the place. We were certainly prepared for the wait. 2008 primaries have seen record turnout nationwide, so a long line was a foregone conclusion. What we didn't expect was to be greeted by hostile and shockingly uninformed poll workers. Angry, dim bulbs all, they seemed only barely aware what it was they were supposed to be doing and kind of resentful that they were even there in the first place.

"What Color!" barked the line watchmen guy in a tone that suggested he'd meant to say "papers, please."

"Color?" says I. I'd always assumed they weren't allowed to ask us that kind of question when we went to vote. I know things have changed under Bush but I didn't think we'd quite got back to the 1890's just yet.

"What color line are you supposed to be in? It's in your booklet!"

Now I got it. This was some kind of organizational system. Sure, I understand. After all, color coordination is way simpler and less confusing that more traditional methods, like, you know, using the Fucking Alphabet. Right?

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"I'm sorry, we didn't bring our booklets." This was true. We didn't.

"SIGH!" Sighed the grumpy poll worker.

No seriously, I swear to god, this poll worker sighed and we could actually hear it articulated aand everything. There was even a word balloon. We're in a war and the economy's tanking but apparently, having to spend more than 5 seconds talking to confused voters is the cross too heavy for even Jesus Christ himself to bear.

"Look, asshole." I didn't say out loud. "I might have a flimsy, paper take home menu from Casa Bianca hanging on my fridge, but I'm pretty goddamned sure they have decent, laminated menus for customers who dine in." I didn't add. "Thus, we don't actually have to bring our own." I failed to conclude with.

What I actually said was "We didn't think we'd need them..."

"Well of course you need them. It says so on the bo..." Here's where I quit paying attention to him. It's bad enough that the polling station was hidden with a Romulan cloaking device, but getting a stern lecture from an embittered old man is just too much. It's not like I was voting on his lawn, right?

Then this happened:

We politely ignored him and got into the "orange" line. There, we learned that our names were not on the "orange" list. So, we got into the "pink" line. There we learned that our names were... also... not on the list.

We were, we assumed, well prepared. Heck, unaware that independents could cast their vote in the Democratic Primary, my GF and I dutifully re-registered as Democrats so we could cast our vote for Obama and as it turns out, recreate the uniquely Southern experience of having a Democratic vote count for absolutely nothing at the end of the night. We even received voter guides and intricate details of our new polling station. So it was something of a surprise to discover that even after our good faith efforts to be informed participants in the increasingly fraudulent charade known as American Politics, the left hand was out smoking crack while the right hand was keeping a record of our registration. Good Job America. Good Job.

So, despite our re-registration, our checking and doublechecking, and our diligent pretense that our vote actually counts, we had to fill out provisional ballots. You know, the kind that only count if the election outcome is in doubt? Woo-Hoo. Obama, for what it's worth, we cast our worthless votes for you. Make us proud, mmkay?

Our roommate, a registered independent, had it much worse. Now, like most of LA, my household found out about 3 hours before midnight on February 4th that indies could vote in the democratic primary. But by the next morning, there were articles in the LA Times, at least one press conference and numerous action alerts online making this totally legal aspect of primary voting public knowledge. Unfortunately, the poll workers in highland Park still communicate by telegraph and town crier, I'm assuming, because none of them knew anything about it.

Now I'm not here to disparage these people personally. I'm sure, when they're not acting like Authoritative Dickheads to confused voters trying to cast perfectly legal votes, they're all nice people who like puppies, kittens and the Eggplant Pizza at Casa B's. But have you ever met someone who doesn't believe in the Moon Landing? You know how frustrating it is trying to convince them how ridiculously wrong they are without getting angry that they could be so misinformed and somehow still managed to move out of their parent's house and get a job? Imagine what happens when they're given even a hint of power.

That's what my roommate endured. She spent 10 minutes going back and forth with them, trying to convince them that she was allowed to vote. After I cast my ballot, I even had to go over there and get all Angry-Mom-At-Toys-R-Us-Demands-Refund on them.

POLL WORKER: "Sir, nonaligned voters cannot vote in the democratic primary."

ME: "Yes, actually they can. They just have to indicate which primary they intend to vote in and what their party affiliation is."

POLL WORKER: "No, California Primaries are closed."

ME: "No, actually they're not. Only the Republican Primary is closed. You need to give her a ballot."

POLL WORKER: "Well your mom is so ugly she looked at her reflection in a swimming pool and the water shattered."

ME: "Well, your mom is so fat her scale expresses her weight in Scientific notation."

POLL WORKER: "Well your mom is so broke she bounced a 5 dollar bill."

ME: Well your mom is so stupid she voted for Pat Buchanan in Florida during the 2000 election!"


Anyway, after a few minutes of arguing facts versus misinformed opinion, the lone poll worker who actually read the news came back from the bathroom and confirmed what me and my roommate were saying. Roomie got a ballot and like me and the GF, she too cast her worthless vote for Obama.

And that's the point. Sure, we were able to vote but how many LA voters were turned away from the polls, confused because they'd heard on the TV that they'd be allowed to vote only to be informed that they couldn't? How many showed up, discovered their information wasn't in the voter roll provided to the polling station, and weren't provided with a provisional ballot?

Sadly, we'll never know how many people who intended to vote didn't get to, but at least the city is making a sincere effort to count every vote.

Dean Logan, acting Los Angeles County registrar, estimates that about 100,000 nonpartisan voters cast ballots without marking a party bubble. How many of them intended to vote for a presidential candidate is unclear -- some may have wanted to vote only on the propositions on the ballot. Logan, who said earlier that he would tabulate as many of the uncounted votes as legally possible, said Friday that his office is attempting to determine how many votes went uncounted and hopes to have an estimate early next week.

That's at least a step better than Florida and Ohio. However, before Obama voters out there get their hopes up, LA (as it turns out) is a Hill town after all:
An analysis of the preliminary results by congressional district indicates that none of the outcomes in Los Angeles County appear close enough to be affected, even if the margins changed by several thousand votes...

Sure, I'd prefer a different outcome, but I'll be satisfied knowing that the outcome we got was legitimate. But moving forward, something needs to be done about the ridiculously convoluted system of voting. It's increasingly easy for voters to assume that their electoral losses are evidence of fraud and corruption. (And let's be honest, it isn't like the last two presidential elections helped.) Shouldn't we place the highest value possible on making voting uniform, transparent and as easy as possible?

What do you think?

*Yes, I know. Nerd Alert.
** With Apologies to Douglas Adams. Yes, I know. Nerd Alert.

Photo "New to the Process" by Geekwithoutacause.