A sheet of voter stickers. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
A sheet of voter stickers. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

Voter turnout in Los Angeles County for Tuesday’s primary was nearly double that of 2012, contributing to a laborious and lengthy process of tallying ballots, but the turnout didn’t beat levels set in the historic 2008 presidential primary, the county’s election chief said Wednesday.

Nearly 42 percent of the county’s almost 4.8 million registered voters cast a ballot in the primary, either by mail or at the polls, compared with just under 22 percent in 2012. The final count of all ballots isn’t expected to end until July 1.

Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan — responsible for managing the more than 2 million ballots cast — told City News Service that Tuesday’s turnout made it a busy day and night for his staff.

“It’s certainly a marked improvement in turnout over 2012. If you go back to 2008 … (when then-presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competed in California’s primary), turnout in that election was 55.26 percent,” Logan said.

By comparison, Tuesday’s results were “not record-breaking, but certainly higher than we typically see in primaries.”

That meant nearly twice as many ballots for Logan’s office to tally overnight. The count went slower than usual, he conceded, for a combination of reasons.

One, there was a higher number of write-in ballots, which require additional handling. Two, his team put new procedures in place to ensure greater accuracy and accountability.

“We will always default to accuracy and accountability over speed,” Logan said. “We’re talking about over a million ballots that were counted last night and it’s important that we count those right and that we can (physically) account for them.”

More than 1.4 million ballots were counted last night but another estimated 570,000 remain to be tallied. Those provisional and vote-by-mail ballots either postmarked on or before the election or hand-delivered to the polls on Tuesday will be processed, qualified and counted during a canvass period that staff was prepping for Wednesday. That period is scheduled to end July 1.

The first results from Tuesday’s election were posted on the county’s website about a half-hour after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Updates trickled in for hours, with all the poll-cast ballots tallied by about 5 a.m.

That was consistent with the timing of the final vote count in the 2012 presidential primary, but a smaller percentage of results was available throughout the evening on Tuesday for anyone unable to sleep until races were decided, Logan said.

Logan said there was also heightened confusion at polling places, given the number of newly registered voters and the fact that this was the first presidential primary under new laws that send the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party affiliation.

“There were a lot of new voters who have never voted in a presidential primary before,” Logan said, while others were confused by having to vote a party-specific ballot.

Some voters were also convinced that provisional ballots wouldn’t count, based on social media messaging by campaigns familiar with other states’ rules.

“In other states, they have very restrictive laws about provisional voting. In California, we have very liberal laws about provisional voting,” Logan said, estimating that 80 to 90 percent of provisional ballots end up qualifying to be counted.

All that confusion meant that ballots were slower to get to Norwalk, where staffers waited to tally them.

Most races were largely decided before all votes were tallied. Some, however, like the race for the county’s 5th District supervisor’s seat, could turn on the final counts. Kathryn Barger, incumbent Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s chief of staff, has locked down her spot in a November run-off with 29.8 percent of the vote. But the two contenders next in line — enterpreneur Darrell Park and Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas — are separated at this point by only 417 votes, with Park ahead.

Looking forward to November’s general election, which typically draws more voters to the polls, Logan said the process will be smoother.

“It’s much less complicated because everyone gets essentially the same ballot,” Logan said.

That said, Logan plans to debrief his staff to determine whether the new counting procedures — which should speed the canvassing process — are worth the loss of speed overnight.

But he also thinks a broader assessment is needed, including consideration of whether complex state primary rules “make sense from the perspective of the voter.”

And officials statewide should also take a look at technology to update decades-old infrastructure that relies on paper-based rosters and a scattered collection of individual polling places, he said.

“We live in Southern California, one of the most progressive parts of the country and we’re still voting by and large the way we did in 1968,” Logan said. “California’s adopted some great laws that have increased participation and registration, like online voter registration (and) moving the cutoff for voter registration up to 15 days instead of 30.

“What we haven’t done is adapted the election day infrastructure to catch up with that,” he said, adding that changes would take the cooperation of legislators and other election officials statewide.

— Wire reports 

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