it’s been almost 24 hours since the polls closed here and probably closer to 24 hours since the media proclaimed clintonthe winner in california. i was planning on rushing home and giving a big blog post about my day at the polls, but i was cranky, tired, and frothing at the mouth about the whole electoral process. the fact that they were reporting clinton winning this state before i had a chance to deliver my ballots was just a great way to cap off the day. it made me wonder if i had just wasted the previous 14 hours and that none of my precinct’s votes mattered.

yesterday just showed to me how poor voter outreach has been in the state of california. my precinct wasn’t beset with all the problems of some other precincts in alameda county, but things definitely could have been smoother. the biggest issue i saw was a lack of knowledge in the electorate of rules for voting in a primary. california’s weird “modified closed primary” only added to the problems. lots of people were upset that they were registered with one party and therefore unable to vote in another party’s primary. many people registered as green wanted to vote democratic. i tried to explain to them, as nicely as possible, that in primaries you get the ballot of the party you registered (if registered partisan), but many seemed confused.

“i voted democratic in 2006, doesn’t that count?” i tried to explain that in general elections (like the 2006 midterm), you can vote for anybody regardless of your party affiliation. “but i voted for feinstein.” that’s great, you’re still registered green! actually, the saddest cases to me were the people who registered as american independents but probably wanted decline-to-state/non-partisan. we’d give them the a.i. ballot and they would ask if they could vote for the democrats. i tried to explain that in california there is the independent party, and that’s how they registered, but that seemed to confuse them more. in the end, for anybody who was dead set on voting in the primary but lacked proper party affiliation (or lack thereof), i gave them provisional ballots. at least that way their votes on the propositions and local measures will count.

i think a lot of the problems people had stemmed from a lack of knowledge about the system, which the state (or at least the county) should have taken some steps to correct. the secretary of state’s website made sense if you’re pretty familiar with election terminology, but the average voter isn’t, nor are they going to take the time to sift through pages to find their answer. that’s assuming they would take the time to look on the website. most likely they will search the internet and find misinformation in some random person’s blog, and then tell their friends, and the whole cycle continues. i know from working in libraries that just having information around doesn’t mean people will find or read it. i wish the state did a big more than just print the party affiliation abbreviation on the back of your sample ballot in the midst of a page full of text. perhaps if they made it easier for lazy people to double check their registration and possibly change it.

i have more to talk about, but i’ll do it tomorrow.


  1. Hellen

    I totally lucked out because I had marked myself non-partisan because I didn’t know any better. I had even read on sfgate that to vote for a dem candidate, I’d have to pick up a Dem ballot, but even then I didn’t really understand what that meant. When I got to the polling place, I picked the non-partisan ballot, then the american independent, and then finally begged away my ignorance for a dem ballot. i felt really stupid but yeah the whole “modified closed primary” shit isn’t good for retards like me

  2. Jo

    Blimey. I have just got used to the idea that I will never understand the American electoral system – now I have to take on board the idea that Americans don’t understand it either? What kind of system denies the voter the choice of who they vote for? I knew it was complicated, but that sounds like deliberate sabotage – statutorily creating confusion in order that the vote is ultimately reflective of something other than the will of the people. I’m actually quite shocked, how naive is that!

  3. kendra

    hellen- when i was doing the roster (getting people to sign before receiving a ballot) and they were registered as non-partisan, i’d always ask them what type of ballot they’d like. they’d look confused and then i’d ask if they wanted to vote in the democratic primary or if they wanted to just vote for the propositions. i think we only had two people not choose the democrat ballot. alameda county totally didn’t expect it and that’s why we were running out of the n-democrat ballots. stupid.

    jo- most american’s really don’t understand, but i think the primaries are a special case because i think a lot of the people don’t understand that party affiliation matters. i know the uk takes a little more commitment to join a politcal party and help select candidates. here people just tick a box when they register and for most elections it doesn’t matter, which is why they most likely forget about it when the primaries roll around. i know i was originally registered as a libertarian, but i had to check to see that i switched it to democrat at some point.

    is the system sabotaging the will of the people? sort of. i think the system should do more to let people know the rules clearly and concisely. i also wish we had same day voter registration, so people who were unhappy with their party affiliation could just re-register, but california keeps voting that down because most people are afraid of illegal immigrants voting. i really don’t understand.

  4. Dad

    People take more time to figure out their cell phone features than the rules of voting. I am glad that more citizens are voting, the next step in accepting their responsibility is to learn the process. Yes, the primary election is complicated a bit, but the governments role is to make the ballots available, the voters job is to take the time to learn the rules.

  5. Neil

    If they ever tried all that over here then no one would bother to vote because its just too much effort. I guess it matters more because the President has more power than a Prime Minister.

  6. Dad

    my comment sounded so snarky, I AM thrilled that so many more voters are coming to the polls, the right to vote used to be cherished and still should be!

  7. Jo

    I’m quite surprised at how much coverage the primaries have been getting in the media over here, and how much interest there is in the whole process in the UK. I don’t ever recall any real coverage of this stage of the US election process in the UK before, I guess it’s because of an increased appreciation of how much the government of the USA directly affects us in the UK. And Neil is right, voter apathy is a massive issue in the UK even without an uber-complex system to unravel. Lets hope the interest in the US elections sparks some enthusiasm for the process at home.

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