State and county leaders demanded answers Wednesday from the Los Angeles County elections chief after more than 118,000 people were left off voter rosters on election day, a major blunder that fueled anger and confusion at the polls.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said he was “gravely concerned” and asked the county registrar to provide him with a detailed report on the cause of the debacle. The county Board of Supervisors also called for an investigation Wednesday at a hastily called hearing.
“We fell short in meeting the more than reasonable expectations of the voters and poll workers,” Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan said at the board meeting. “It’s an issue that I take seriously, I understand the gravity of it, especially in an environment where there is so much discussion about the security and integrity of our voting process.”
The faulty rosters, which election officials attributed Tuesday to a printing error, affected roughly 2.3% of the registered voters across the county and 35% of voting locations, according to county figures. Logan said Wednesday that the foul-up involved the names printed on the rosters for polling places and had nothing to do with voter eligibility.
“It was a data issue and it is a system issue that absolutely needs to be resolved,” Logan told the county board, without elaborating on exactly what went wrong.
In a letter to Logan, Padilla sought more details on what happened, including which precincts were affected. He urged Logan to inform any voters who had been affected that they were, in fact, registered to vote in California and tell them whether their provisional ballots are counted. He also suggested that the county office seek help from an independent expert to prevent the same sort of problems in the future.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district stretches from downtown Los Angeles to South Gate and east to Pomona, said that she was concerned that some voters in her district left their polling places “very upset” after learning their names weren’t listed. In a written statement, she added that “many of those left off rosters were individuals of color.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that at her polling station, a worker told her that voters on the 2400 block of several streets in Santa Monica were missing from the roster.
“The bottom line is that we are requesting a real investigation and as soon as possible,” Kuehl said.
Glendale resident Bernadette DeMesme-Anders said she went Tuesday to the same fire station where she had voted for decades, only to discover that her name was not on the rolls.
“We were told it must have been our fault, we must have sent them a mail-in ballot request,” DeMesme-Anders said. “I assured them it wasn't the case.”
The retired school psychologist ultimately turned in a provisional ballot, but the process left her unnerved. “Why, all of a sudden, after all of these decades, would this glitch suddenly appear?” she said. “It made me very frightened for our democracy.”
Logan said he had gotten reports Tuesday morning that some people were not listed on rosters, which “isn’t unusual.” But by noon, the scope of the problem became clearer, he said.
Poll workers were instructed to give out provisional ballots to people whose names did not appear on rosters, according to his office. Such ballots are counted after they are verified as being from registered voters. Historically, 85% to 90% of provisional ballots have been deemed valid and ultimately counted, according to county officials.
Logan told the Board of Supervisors he was confident that poll workers handed out provisional ballots to those who weren’t listed on the rosters.
“We have a mantra that voting never stops and nobody leaves without voting,” he said. “Now, if there were voters who were frustrated by being offered a provisional ballot and chose not to do that, I’m not saying that that didn’t happen.”
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that “having over 100,000 people left off the roster is not something you just shrug your shoulders over.” Election officials need to address whether the errors disproportionately affected any group of voters, such as Democrats or Republicans, or people living in particular areas, Levinson said.
Even if people were offered the chance to vote with a provisional ballot, she said, some may have decided not to bother.
“It’s a herculean effort to get anybody in L.A. to the polls,” she said. “To get them to the polls, and then get them through a conversation about why they’re not on the rolls, even though they should be, and then talk through provisional voting — it’s less than ideal.”
Patricia Sanders, 34, said that poll workers seemed unsure what to do when her name was missing from rosters at her polling place on Mulholland Drive.
“It took them a while to decide to give me the provisional ballot,” she said.
The whole experience was “just an awkward interaction. My concern was, ‘Was this done correctly? Did it go where it’s supposed to go?’ I didn’t leave feeling very confident that my vote was handled correctly,” Sanders said.
Kuehl recounted that one of her aides tried to vote in Sylmar but was told that her name wasn’t on the list. Poll workers told the woman to try voting at another precinct, but the aide insisted on getting a provisional ballot. The woman had to ask five times for a provisional ballot before one was given to her, Kuehl said.
L.A. County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Gonzalez said “it is an inevitability that many will have seen their names not on the voter roll and be turned off from voting entirely.”
Logan told supervisors that his office is speeding up the process of counting the provisional ballots that were cast by people who weren’t listed on the rosters. His office tentatively plans to certify the election results June 29.
The missing names also troubled politicians who were vying for votes this week. Antonio Villaraigosa, who conceded in the race for governor Tuesday night, had called on election officials to extend voting until Friday because of the errors and urged Padilla to investigate.
“You would expect that in the United States of America, in the county of Los Angeles, they would be able to conduct an election without there being problems of this magnitude,” Villaraigosa told reporters at his election night party in downtown Los Angeles.
Eric Jaye, a senior advisor to the Villaraigosa campaign, said the snafu “would not affect the results in this race, but it affects all of us.”
Congressional candidate John Briscoe, a Republican who is campaigning against U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal to represent a district centered in Long Beach, said he wasn’t worried about the problem affecting the results in his race. Briscoe came in second to Lowenthal according to preliminary results, and another Republican candidate who finished behind him, David Clifford, had not conceded as of Wednesday afternoon.
But Briscoe said he was “deeply concerned about the reduction of faith in the voting system.”
“This isn’t about Russian hacking,” Briscoe said. “This is just very poor administration.”