'No One Could Have Predicted This,' Conny McCormack Tells LA Times in Her Best Condoleese, About Her Ballot Design That Disenfranchsed 40% of Voters in At Least Two Previous Elections...
By Brad Friedman on 2/18/2008, 1:35pm PT  

L.A. County's former Registrar Recorder, Conny McCormack, who quit just prior to February's Super Tuesday Primary Election, turned into Condi Rice today. She's quoted in an Los Angeles Times' front page story confirming, as we pointed out over the weekend, that Election Officials did nothing about the "Double Bubble" ballot problem --- which may well disenfranchise a conservatively estimated 50,000 county voters --- despite massive disenfranchisement with the same design over last six years, since McCormack first implemented it.

In her best Condoleese, McCormack is quoted by the paper today saying, "This is an unfortunate, unanticipated result...No one could have predicted this."

Sound familiar?

She is shortly contradicted, in the same article, by a spokesperson from her own former office, before she continues on to blame voters and poll workers for the problem that she created --- as now confirmed by both the LA Times and California's Secretary of State Debra Bowen --- before then proceeding to do absolutely nothing about it...

Ballot Design by Conny

The Times, confirms today that it was "McCormack [who] picked this ballot style [in] 2002". Though they seem to have modified their headline for today's story from the time the print edition went out last night, until the time the story was posted on the web.

The more accurate headline on the print edition: "Flaw on ballot went unheeded for 6 years".

The more Conny-friendly headline, as posted on the web today: "L.A. County ballot design went unnoticed for six years"

As we noted over the weekend, the LA Times had reported earlier reported that Non-Partisan ballots cast in open Democratic Primaries in previous years had gone quietly uncounted at an alarming rate. An editorial of theirs late last week pointed out that 44% of such "crossover" ballots went uncounted in the March 2004 Primary, while 42% of such ballots went uncounted in June of 2006.

On KQED, Northern California's National Public Radio affiliate last Friday, Sec. of State Bowen also confirmed the ballot design was McCormack's, and that she was "shocked" to hear that it had been in place for the last three elections.

"The ballot design was created by the previous Registrar of voters," Bowen said on KQED's Forum program (audio archive here.) "So the current Registrar, the acting Registrar in LA County, inherited this problem and he's relatively new. I don't know if he was aware that voters were being systematically excluded. I was shocked to hear it, frankly."

Where McCormack now says "no one could have predicted this," --- much like planes flying into buildings, or levees giving way in New Orleans --- the fact is if she couldn't have predicted this, then she was criminally negligent in her job as Registrar. If, on the other hand, she knew about the problem and did nothing, then she is equally criminally negligent. At least if disenfranchising voters was actually the felony crime in this country that it ought to be.

Officials from McCormack's former office even go on to contradict her somewhat in the same article today. They admit that the problem was spotted "months earlier", even though McCormack had vacated her post, officially, on the last day of December [emphasis added]:

Paul Drugan, [acting Registrar Dean] Logan's executive assistant, said election officials had foreseen the problem months earlier and had been educating voters about the requirement. He dismissed the concerns of anxious voters who were worried that their ballots would not count.

Conny Blames Everyone But Herself

At the same time, there is plenty of blame to go around. Both Drugan and McCormack's temporary replacement, acting Registrar Logan, had been busy over the last week or two since the election, inexcusably blaming poll workers and voters for the problem, and giving themselves a pass for the ridiculous ballot design and awful, often contradictory, instructions they had given to poll workers on how to deal with "Decline to State" (sometimes called "Non-Partisan") voters at the polls.

Late comments from Drugan and Logan, however, seem to indicate that they're finally coming around to taking the responsibility for the problem that they should have from the beginning.

When the problem first publicly emerged, thanks to the watchdog efforts of California's Courage Campaign, the pair should have simply thrown the dearly departed McCormack under the bus. It was, after all, her years-old ballot design, and Logan had only recently come to the office after leaving his post as Election Director in King County, WA (where he oversaw the disastrous mess of their 2004 razor-thin Gubernatorial Election.)

According to the Times today...

[Logan] acknowledged that many of the county's 28,000 poll workers, who are paid $80 to $120, were not adequately taught about the bubble during their 90-minute training sessions and did not know enough to inform voters properly.

"We can look back now and say it should have been emphasized more," he acknowledged.

That alone is an improvement over previous suggestions included by Logan in his report [PDF] given last week to the LA County Board of Supervisors, wherein he included a litany of education efforts he purports his office made, by way of suggesting that the issue should have been clear to poll workers.

Previously, he had been even more direct in trying to place blame with poll workers and voters, instead of with his own office and McCormack, where it belonged. As The BRAD BLOG reported just after the extent of the debacle began to emergence...

"It would almost be counterintuitive for someone to miss," acting Registrar Logan told AP with, presumably, a straight face the day before the primary. "We have put this information in voter education materials, and we've provided real clear instructions."

That same BRAD BLOG report detailed the massive confusion among both poll workers and voters about the second bubble required to be filled out on Non-Partisan ballots by voters wishing to vote in either the Democratic or American Independent Party primaries. Without filling in that bubble, LA County's electronic scanners would have no way to known which primary the Presidential votes on the ballot should be counted for, since the same set of numbered bubble was used to record votes in both the Dem and AI primary races.

Despite Logan's assertions to the public at the time, the instructions to poll workers, about which ballots to give Non-Partisan voters, and what to tell them about the second, so-called "Double Bubble", were anything but "real clear", as we reported at the time.

Logan's executive assistant Drugan had also made similar comments to the media earlier, downplaying the issue, and suggesting it was the voters' problem, and not their office's.

"Are some voters confused? Yes, they are. Is it widespread or systemic? I don't think that it is," Drugan was quoted selling to the LA Daily News.

Today, McCormack, who apparently has yet to get the memo that the problem was neither the fault of voters or poll workers, had the temerity to tell the LA Times:

"Election officials will tell you they despise these elections," said former L.A. County Registrar Conny McCormack, who retired in January, a month before the vote. "Voters don't understand them, and poll workers don't understand them."

It's never her fault, of course.

No Stranger to Controversy

This would hardly be the first time McCormack has come under fire. Just prior to quitting last year, she made headlines when expressing her concerns, to the LA County Board of Supervisors, about the loss of profits that voting machine company's make see in the wake of California's Sec. of State Debra Bowen's decertification of a number of electronic voting systems found to be incredibly vulnerable to both error and malicious tampering. McCormack had previously been featured, with photograph and quote, on a Diebold Election Systems sales brochure, singing the company's praises.

As to the 50,000 or more ballots cast in the Democratic Primary that have yet to be counted, we very specifically detailed late last week how virtually every one of them can be counted, and counted 100% accurately as per the voter's intent, and as per California law. If Logan actually wishes to do so, in any case.

We've been in touch with the office of California Sec. of State Debra Bowen, and her office is now taking steps to assure that Logan counts as many votes as possible. She sent a 3-page letter to Logan [PDF] on Friday, requesting that he begin to take a number of the steps we detailed in our article about how LA County's Non-Partisan ballots must now be counted to ensure that get counted, and get counted accurately.

We'll have more specifics on Bowen's efforts shortly. [UPDATE: That new report is now posted here...]

For now, a bit of what should be fairly obvious good news.

Bowen also mentioned, in her interview with KQED, that this ballot scheme will never again be used in California, where there is another another primary, for state candidates, scheduled for June.

"It's fair to say, we will not see that ballot design again, anywhere in California, in any future election," Bowen said about the controversy which has become California's and Conny McCormack's very own equivalent of Florida's infamous "Butterfly Ballot".

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Recent BRAD BLOG coverage of L.A. County's "Double Bubble" Trouble...

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