Wednesday, March 13, 2002
County Election Problems Caused by State Redistricting—Registrar-Recorder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Conny B. McCormack yesterday offered an apology to voters across the county and told the Board of Supervisors that state redistricting caused the majority of the county’s problems during the March 5 primary.
“The Registrar-Recorder’s Department let you down,” she said. “I take full responsibility for this.”
State redistricting forced the county to relocate all 5,000 of the voting precincts after the other political boundary lines are finished, leaving the county’s Registrar-Recorder’s office to focus on locating polling places within the new precincts and not on recruiting or training poll workers, McCormack said.
About 20 percent of the county’s 4.1 million voters used voting booths in unfamiliar places in the March 5 primary, she said.
Now that the issues surrounding polling locations have been solved, the county can now focus on poll worker issues, she said.
The supervisors’ offices fielded numerous complaints from voters about the chaotic way the primary was conducted. Voter complaints ranged from the wrong address for a polling place appearing on the sample ballot to polling places being locked to a lack of election materials, officials said.
In Northridge, for example, a firehouse informed the county in November it could not serve as a polling place, but it was listed on the sample ballot anyway, Tony Bell, a spokesman for Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said. When voters arrived, they were told the location was changed, but not where to go, Bell commented.
An Antonovich deputy found the second location and created three handicapped parking spots because the new polling place was not handicapped accessible, Bell said.
Supervisor Yvonne Burke said her office received a complaint that voters were afraid to go to one particular polling place because it was a drug house and they thought it might be dangerous.
About 150 polling places opened late but nearly half of those were up and running by 8 a.m., McCormack said.
McCormack called the number of personnel cancellations in the three days leading up to the election “astounding.”
A normal cancellation rate for poll inspectors, who are responsible for delivering the supplies, setting up the polls, and taking the ballots to the collection center, is between 50 and 75, McCormack said, but this year the county received 236 cancellations.
The number of cancellations were more than the county could accommodate, even with 200 backups it had waiting in the wings, McCormack told supervisors. And those cancellations doesn’t include the dozens of poll inspectors who just didn’t show up on election day, she said.
The supervisors expressed concern that they were not notified about the staffing concerns until after the election, but McCormack said that she was not aware of the situation herself until the weekend before the election.
McCormack suggested increasing the pay for poll inspectors from the current $75 stipend to $200 or $300 for their 14-hour work day. But that pay increase would cost the county an additional $1 million per election, she said.
The modified closed primary may also have confused poll workers and caused some workers not to show up for their election day assignments, McCormack suggested.
The modified closed primary allowed only voters who are either non-partisan or belong to a political party not recognized in California to cast a vote in another party.
In 1998 and 2000, the Open “Blanket” Primary law allowed all registered voters, including non-partisan voters, to vote for any candidate on the ballot, regardless of party registration. But in June 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled California’s Open “Blanket” Primary unconstitutional.
McCormack also attributed some of the confusion on election day to the good intentions of state legislators who approved allowing voters to register up to 15 days before the election instead of the previous 29-day deadline.
Voter registration lists are printed 20 days before the election, McCormack said, resulting in confusion at polling places where voters who had recently re-registered with a different party were still listed as members of their former party.
Poll workers were confused about which ballots to give those voters, McCormack said.
McCormack applauded the 2,100 county employees who worked as election workers, but the supervisors said she needed to do more outreach to get the number of workers she needed to conduct the election, including contacting county offices to supply additional poll workers if needed.
“I think it’s part of our patriotic duty to pull off a democratic election,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.
An in-depth written report on all of the issues surrounding the recent primary is expected to be submitted by McCormack in three weeks.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company