A recent post-election panel held by The Future of California Elections (FoCE) to assess the state’s recent primary election revealed a number of issues. FoCE is a collaborative statewide group funded by the James Irvine Foundation and dedicated to modernizing elections and increasing voter participation. As one might expect, the voter experience varied widely across the state but a number of problems related to potential disenfranchisement were called out including some confusion among poll workers and voters. Voters who registered as No Party Preference should have had the option to vote using a cross-over ballot in the Democratic primary. But, not all poll workers offered the alternative ballot and many voters didn’t know to ask for it. In other cases, voters also had mistakenly registered for the American Independent Party – thinking they were independent of any party – rather than registering with no party affiliation. Those voters couldn’t vote for any of the major party candidates.
Deanna Kitamura, project director with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, highlighted different challenges such as those posed by language barriers. While ballots are available in many languages, not all polling places visibly displayed the options. Without seeing a ballot in their language, some voters apparently simply walked away without casting a vote.
Those registered voters who may have had special needs due to disability or hospitalization may also have been overlooked, according to Fred Nisen, supervising attorney at the Bay Area Regional Office of Disability Rights California. In most places, California requires those who are disabled to pro-actively request assistance in voting and those in hospitals or otherwise unable to travel due to health issues may not have been able to vote.
The state also saw some potential voter intimidation when reports were made about the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office making house calls to certain homes in a mostly Hmong area, warning residents of the penalties for voting illegally.