Voting ground to a near halt on Super Tuesday in a number of states, most notably in major jurisdictions in Texas and California relying on electronic pollbooks and unverifiable computer touchscreen Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs). Who could have predicted it? Oh, yeah. We did. Over and over again on The BradCast. Not that many in the corporate media heeded our warnings. We know elections officials certainly didn't. [Audio link to show follows below.]
In Texas, the main problems seem to revolve around a lack of poll workers due to coronavirus fears and, most notably, a lack of voting machines for Democratic voters in many areas, since the Republican Party was unwilling to share their state-mandated even number of voting machines with voters from the other party. Obscene wait times as long as 6 or 7 hours to vote were reported in some locations in the Lone Star State.
In California, many counties did away with precinct based voting for the first time this year in favor of a Voting Center model. That meant that voters could cast their ballot at any of a smaller number of voting centers which took the place of community-based precincts. In Los Angeles County, for example, there were about 1,000 voting centers, compared with 5,000 precinct polling places in previous years. In order to accomplish this new paradigm, and allow voters same-day registration and party switching, computerized electronic pollbooks were used to check in voters. The systems check records against the state voter registration database in order to sign in voters before they can vote. But those computers had trouble in more than a dozen counties syncing up with the state database for some (still-unexplained) reason. That resulted in hours-long lines and voters forced to cast provisional ballots in many locations.
But the worst situation was undoubtedly in L.A. County, where a brand-new, 100% unverifiable, $300,000,000 touchscreen voting system manufactured by a company named Smartmatic was also deployed countywide for the first time. It did not go well. Voters across the nation's largest voting jurisdiction were stuck in two to four hour lines in many cases at voting centers where the e-pollbooks slowed down to a crawl and/or where BMDs failed to work, reportedly flipped votes, or had their paper ballot summaries become jammed in the new computer systems. A County spokesperson estimated on Tuesday that 20% of the new "Voting Solutions for All People" (VSAP) BMDs had failed. (By the way, that link to the main VSAP website at vsap.LAVote.net, singing its praises and listing its many partners who signed on to it, now appears to be down, even as the regular LAVote.net site seems to be working fine. A telling omen?)
As one Twitter listener quipped on Tuesday night: "#ShouldaListenedToBrad". (Anyone feel like making t-shirts for a fund raiser?)
We're joined today by two longtime L.A. County election workers, LARRY DILG and "DOUG", after their impossibly long days of service over this past week. We discuss what went wrong (and right) at their respective voting centers using L.A. County's new voting system --- ten years in development by Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, and warned against for most of those years by yours truly, for many of the reasons which revealed themselves to all on Tuesday.
"I think we faced into the problems pretty well," Dilg tells me. "We had 25 machines in our room. The machines would sometimes stop working, or get quirky --- paper jams and stuff like that. I thought it went pretty well, actually, considering. The big thing I experienced was there were many more voters than we've ever seen in our center before."
"I think we had one or two machines that just were down for the count," he continued. "Other than that, it was almost like they got overloaded for awhile and needed a rest. We'd give them a rest, then reboot them, and they were back up and running." He pegged the failure rate at closer to 10% for the BMDs at his voting center.
"Doug" reports: "I had eight BMDs, and two of them broke, ultimately with paper jams, and I had to take them out of action. Smartmatic people came and fixed those two." For the record, while the VSAP systems were designed and supposedly owned by the County, they were manufactured by Smartmatic, a voting machine company with a dubious history. I was surprised to hear that their employees were here and allowed to directly service the machines mid-election, much less at all.
As to the e-pollbooks, "Doug" reports: "They seemed to get worse and worse, over time. The problem with them is that they have to re-sync periodically with headquarters in Norwalk, to update themselves so that they know who has voted and who hasn't voted. According to my worker, the machine was updating about every 15 minutes, so every 15 minutes, it was down for two or three minutes ... So the problem was this updating was taking quite a bit of a long time and it seemed to get worse and worse as more people voted. We only had two pollbooks at my location, and sometimes they were both updating at the same time, which meant that anybody you tried to process during that period had to vote with a provisional ballot."
While Doug is "concerned about the tally of the votes", Dilg, a self-identified "idealist" believes "it's a really good system", even with all of the problems revealed on Super Tuesday. "I have to say yesterday was a very positive experience because there were people doing good things, all around the room, and feeling good about being citizens in a democracy. That kind of civic experience is very different from a rally, and it's a beautiful experience." Both say they will work again as pollworkers, and urge others to do the same.
And, oh, yeah. We also discuss the reported results across the country from Super Tuesday, where Joe Biden stunned the pundits with many unexpected victories in 10 states, including in Texas and Elizabeth Warren's home state of Massachusetts (where she placed third according to computer-tallied results!) and where Bernie Sanders won four states, including the day's richest prize of California (presuming the many weeks of counting ahead in the Golden State don't result in a change to the current standings in its partial tallies).
Also, NYC's billionaire former Republican mayor Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the Democratic Presidential race and endorsed Joe Biden, after dumping half a billion dollars to win zero states. And Elizabeth Warren, the only other remaining candidate in the race to have won delegates, is reportedly assessing the outlook on how and if she will move forward in what now appears to be a two-man race for the Democratic nomination...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)