Several thousand votes likely remain uncounted in Berkeley after an unprecedented surge in last minute voter registrations left nearly 5,000 residents off of the voter rolls.
UC students appeared to have been disproportionately affected by the discrepancy between voter registration lists and people claiming to be registered voters. Approximately one out of three students going to vote had to cast a provisional paper ballot when their names didn’t appear on voter rolls, said Wanda Hasadsri, lead poll watcher for the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly.
“We definitely have a problem with what happened,” said Matthew McFeeley, organizing director for the University of California Student Association, which registered over 6,000 students statewide this semester. “There is no guarantee that the votes will count.”
The State Legislature established provisional ballots for state and local races to ensure that voters not listed on registration lists would still be able to cast a vote. Before the votes can be counted, election officials must verify that voters casting the provisional ballots are, in fact, registered.
In 2000, only 60 percent of the more than 100,000 provisional votes cast in Los Angeles County were ultimately declared valid, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Verifying and counting the ballots will take about two weeks, said Elaine Ginnold, the assistant registrar of voters for Alameda County. In addition to provisional ballots, absentee ballots delivered to polling stations on Election Day also remain to be counted. Those are expected to take about two weeks for final tallies as well.
Ginnold said that typically that the county receives between 50,000 and 75,000 absentee ballots on Election Day, but didn’t know how many were received in Berkeley on Tuesday.
As of Thursday morning, out of 81,611 registered voters in Berkeley, 42,661 votes have been recorded, Ginnold said, a turnout, so far, of just over 50 percent. Depending on how many provisional ballots are accepted and how many absentee ballots came in on election day, the percentage of voter turnout should rise, she said. In 2000, the year of the last presidential election, 54,684 out of 72,299 registered voters cast a ballot, or about 75 percent.
While it is unlikely to alter the outcome of any city-wide races, the number of uncounted ballots is estimated to exceed the current vote margin for two races: one, for school board director, where incumbent John Selawsky leads his closest competitor by 680 votes, and the other, for Measure R, an initiative to loosen medical cannabis laws which is losing by 866 votes.
Ginnold attributed the high numbers of voters not listed on voter rolls to a new state law that pushed back the deadline for registering to vote to Oct.18—15 days before the election. Since the registrar printed the voter registration roster on Oct. 4—29 days before the election—the previous deadline for registering to vote, anyone who registered after Oct. 4 wasn’t included on the voter rolls.
“It’s a clerical conundrum,” she said.
As of Thursday, Ginnold said, 4,970 voters had registered in Berkeley after the rosters had been printed and thus weren’t included on voter registration lists given to election workers at Berkeley polling stations. It isn’t known how many of those voters showed up to the polls Tuesday.
Raeanne Young, 20, a student at Mills College who registered within the last two weeks, wasn’t please to be handed a provisional ballot.
“It’s unbelievable they made it such an ordeal just to vote,” she said. Young was one of over 100 voters—about one in four, according poll worker Gregory Willmore—forced to fill out a provisional ballot at the polling station in the basement of the Seventh Day Adventist on 2236 Parker St.
Several blocks away at the YWCA, a poll worker identifying himself as Dak said the precinct had issued more than 200 provisional ballots and had recorded 468 votes on the touch screen machines.
William Sutton, the precinct coordinator, said the high number of voters not appearing on the registration lists contributed to long lines at the precinct, where the wait to vote peaked at over two hours.
To expedite voting, election workers at the YWCA—much to the dismay of UC poll monitors—encouraged voters to fill out provisional ballots while in line to speed up the process.
“They were giving provisional ballots for people who were registered and requested a standard paper ballot and telling people they would definitely count,” said Wanda Hasadsri, UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly poll monitor. She counseled voters to remain in line and wait to vote electronically.
Ginnold insisted that as long as voters filing out the provisional ballots had registered, their votes would be counted before the county is required to certify the election in three weeks. Voters who requested a paper ballot and those who filled out provisional ballots were all given the same form; there is no difference between the two ballots, she said.
She said that all paper ballots were ordered to be placed in a provisional ballot envelope in order to efficiently account for them. Two years ago, she said, paper ballots were dumped into ballot boxes making them difficult to track.
McFeeley of the ASUC said Berkeley was one of several cities with UC campuses where students had trouble voting. The worst case, he said, was at UC San Diego, where the county had only two precincts for the 24,000 student campus. With a large turnout of recently registered voters and a shortage of English language provisional ballots, hundreds of San Diego student voters were given the option of waiting hours for the delivery of new provisional ballots or filling out ballots written in Vietnamese, he said.
Ginnold said that in comparison to recent elections, Alameda County’s electronic voting machines suffered few malfunctions. Berkeley precincts lodged 17 complaints to the registrar’s office, two of which involved problems with the voting machines, according to the Electronic Incident Voting System.
At the Rose Garden Inn, one caller issued a complaint that the electronic machines failed intermittently and at the Claremont Library Branch, a caller issued a complain that voters were being given provisional ballots when several machines malfunctioned.