The Democratic Party’s California primary made it hard for pro-Sanders independents to vote, with many denied the right ballots and many young voters forced to vote “provisionally,” giving Hillary Clinton a boost toward victory, writes Rick Sterling.
By Rick Sterling
Richmond California is a refinery town in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is also where there is a diverse working class community with a strong Richmond Progressive Alliance which previously elected a Green Party Mayor. Bernie Sanders visited the city and actively supported the populist movement in February 2014 making it likely that Bernie Sanders would receive strong support in Richmond.
My daughter is a school psychologist in Richmond’s local school system. Here is her experience Tuesday in the California Primary Election:
“Never have I felt so much that my vote doesn’t count! My Richmond, CA polling place at 1340 Marina Way South was an absolute mess.
“1. The location was different from every other time I’ve voted out here and Google initially mapped me to an abandoned patch of dirt next to a park.
“2. After I eventually figured out how to get there, myself and few other people waited in the wrong line for about 10-15 minutes, because the signs weren’t appropriately marked.
“3. Finally I get to the table with ballots and I’m told they ran out of Democratic ballots.
“4. NONE of the people working there with the exception of 1 woman, that I don’t think even worked there (!) could explain to me how the stupid NXD ballot process works and even then I was still confused.
“5. I had to ASK for the other ballot with the prop measures and senate vote because the guy forgot to give it to me!
“6. After I finished filling out my ballots, a woman takes my ballot with the prop measures and slides it in the machine, then LOOKS at my presidential ballot vote and stuffs it in a box that is filled to the brim with other provisional ballots. I asked her when it would be counted and she said in a few weeks.
“7. Before I even get home the opposing candidate has been proclaimed winner.
“I already reported all this BS to Bernie’s voter complaint hotline, but I’m ready for a revolution y’all.”
That experience was shared by many others in California. This Los Angeles Times story is headlined: “It was just chaos: Broken machines, incomplete voter rolls leave some wondering whether their ballots will count.”
The report documents in writing and video the experience of numerous people with the observation that “experts said the culprit for Tuesday’s voting problems seems to be a confluence of factors — old voting machines, a competitive election that has drawn new voters, plus complex state voting laws that can be hard for poll volunteers and voters to follow.”
Huffington Post reported “LA Primary Mired in Voting Problems.” Across the city many people were forced to vote “provisionally” due to machine breakdowns and other problems. (Provisional ballots are often not counted and have been criticized as essentially “placebos” to give voters the belief they have voted when their ballots will later be discarded, as Greg Palast describes in an article about the tricks used to discourage independent voter participation in California.)
Prior to the election there were reports of poll workers being misinformed in official training sessions.
Supposedly with 100 percent of the vote counted, the results show 1.94 million for Hillary Clinton and 1.50 million for Bernie Sanders for a total vote count of 3.44 million votes. This contrasts with a total vote count of over 5 million in the 2008 California primary election. Where are all the missing votes? How many provisional votes have not yet been counted?
One might argue that the 2008 California was held on “Super Tuesday” in February and that generated more participation. However given the huge excitement over the Sanders campaign and high interest in the election race, it’s hard to explain such a large decline when the population has increased.
One might argue that news reports that Hillary Clinton had already won the race, broadcast on the eve of the election, reduced participation. This is evidence of media bias and spin but it’s hard to see it suppressing the participation of Sanders supporters who came out in tens of thousands day after day in cities throughout the state.
Huge crowds of Sanders supporters waited for hours to participate enthusiastically in Stockton, Vallejo, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, San Diego and beyond. It’s hard to see them being fooled or dissuaded from voting by a dubious AP story possibly promoted by the Clinton campaign.
Sixteen years ago, with Al Gore having little challenge to becoming the Democratic nominee, 3.2 million voters participated in the California primary race. At that time relatively few progressives or independents were participating in the Democratic primary race.
In short, it does not seem credible that there are 30 percent fewer votes, a drop-off of more than 1.5 million, this year compared with eight years ago. How many provisional ballots remain uncounted? Going back to my daughter’s experience in Richmond, how many boxes filled to the brim with provisional ballots are there throughout the state? Where are the missing ballots?
Rick Sterling works with Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center, Syria Solidarity Movement and Task Force on the Americas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org