Something Is Rotten in the State of California

What has defined the U.S political system for over two hundred years is its form of liberal democracy, a representative government that dates back to 1776 and the creation of the United States. In contrast to a much earlier form of direct democracy, liberal democracy allows people to vote in representatives, who make decisions based on their constituents’ opinions. It is this very process that is now under scrutiny in states like California.

On February 5, twenty four states and the American Samoa held either a primary or a caucus to decide national parties’ nominations. California held the largest treasure trove with 170 Republican delegates and 441 Democratic delegates. That night, Californian Secretary of State Department declared John McCain and Hillary Clinton the winners of the top-tier political parties. McCain walked away with 93% of the delegates and Clinton received pledges from 56%. However, these numbers are empty promises that are still being substantiated.

One of the problems with the Californian primary was its voter registration form. The voter registration form appeared clear and direct. There were eight rows for you to put in your personal information, such as your name, address, date of birth, and telephone number, and a ninth row for designating your political party. Yet it was this last row that confused voters and left many with ineligible ballots.

The State of California asked voters to fill in an oval next to their respective party. The options were as follows: American Independent Party, Democratic Party, Green Party, Libertarian Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Republican Party, Other, or a “Decline to State” category. What was not made public to Californian voters was that there were only two choices that allowed them to vote outside a specific party primary: the Democratic Party or “Decline to State” categories.

According to poll workers, many people claimed they were part of the American Independent Party, thinking themselves to be Independent. However, the American Independent Party is a separate and independent party that disallowed its voters from voting in a different primary. This has led to numerous complains. In one instance, an elderly Californian man came to a poll worker after Super Tuesday, distraught over his ballot. He had filled in the oval for American Independent Party, but did not see any choices for Democratic candidates. He finally had written in Barack Obama on his ballot. Unable to ask the question directly, he had his wife ask if his ballot would count. The ballot worker turned to her and said, “No, unfortunately it won’t be counted. I am not sure if you want to tell him this.”

This unfortunate occurrence was one of many in California on Super Tuesday. The culprit of many of these problems was a clear lack of organization and education for Californian voters. While there were widely publicized information for Californians on which proposition to vote for, and why to support the growth of Native American casinos, there was almost nothing to inform people on how to vote. Many people ended up not voting because they had moved and did not realize they could come to a poll and fill out a provisional ballot. Others filled out their voter registration incorrectly and were not given an option to vote. Californians went to their designated voting location and declared they were Independent, only to receive a ballot with State propositions on it. Later, they found they had to specifically declare they wanted an Independent/Democratic ballot to vote in the Democratic primary. And they had to declare they were Republican to vote in the Republican primary.

In Santa Barbara county, one worker reported that she had hundreds of voter registration forms from Republicans wanting to declare themselves Democratic so they could vote. She explained that the vast majority of these people were choosing to vote for Barack Obama. In these and other cases, if voters correctly filled out their paperwork, they would receive a provisional ballot. These, along with vote-by-mail ballots, are still being counted by the Californian Secretary of State, which still insists that 100% of the precinct ballots are in. As of February 15th, the Secretary of State reports that 773,229 ballots are still uncounted, and this does not include seven counties, one of these being Santa Barbara county. Since Super Tuesday, the percentages between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have changed only slightly. Hillary Clinton’s 52.1% has gone down to 51.9%, and Barack Obama’s 42% has risen to 42.7%.

In an official the email by California Secretary of State, the Secretary of State has begun what is called the “semifinal official canvass of the vote” – the tallying of early-returned vote-by-mail and the ballots cast in each of the state’s voting precincts. At the end of the email was a pledge to count all the votes.

No later than the 39th day after the election, the Secretary of State must determine the votes cast for candidates for state and federal office and for the statewide ballot measures, certify those results, and issue certificates of election to those candidates who were elected.

One would speculate that the 39th day should be the day the Secretary of State declares 100% of the precinct results. But perhaps that is asking too much. In a country born and developed under a liberal democracy government, U.S citizens are witnessing a breakdown in the most fundamental parts of the political process. Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s basis for pursuing legal actions against the state of Washington is due to the State’s failure to count all the votes before declaring a winner. With probably 850,000 votes still uncounted in California and thousands deemed by the state of California ineligible (arguably due to the state’s lack of clarity and communication), is the California scenario any different?

You Decide…