For decades, Iowa with its almost lily-white populace has had far more to say about the political destiny of America than California, the most populous state, whose residents far more closely represent the nation’s full diversity.
But Iowa’s performance on its vaunted first-in-the-nation Feb. 3 caucus night and afterward removed any justification for it to fill a significant role in the foreseeable future. Not only were results muddled by a faulty smartphone app used to report caucus counts, but once it was determined that what did get reported came replete with errors and faulty math, the Iowa Democratic Party refused even to make corrections of the preliminary results it had announced.
Now fast forward to California’s primary Election Night exactly one month later. This state’s election officials apparently learned nothing from Iowa’s disastrous use of an untested new app designed to report caucus results quickly.
This app did not cost anywhere near the $300 million spent by Los Angeles County alone to implement California’s new voting center-based system. But whatever Iowa’s problems, there were no polling stations where the last vote was cast after midnight, as happened in Northern California. No voter lines stretching around the block as there were at closing time in many Los Angeles County locations.
It’s nothing new for California’s final results to remain uncertain until about 30 days after the last votes are cast, but never before has the secretary of state’s website been stuck on the same vote numbers for more than two days after the official close of polls. That happened here, leaving candidates and voters guessing about projected final results even longer than usual.
No one expected everything here to be completely smooth or quick, and it wasn’t. Confusion is the logical result when voters are free to switch party choices right up until they vote and when ballots mailed before midnight of Election Night can be counted so long as they arrive within three days of the official vote. Complicating matters even more were new electronic poll books listing voters who had not yet cast ballots and a new system of last-minute voter registration.
So, yes, California will see some close races stay undecided for weeks in the interest of making sure the eventual results are correct.
The new California system aimed to expand the vote, not suppress it. But when lines to vote involve waits of three and four hours, forcing some folks to leave without casting their ballots, that’s a lot like voter suppression. Those lines were mostly the result of eliminating about 80 percent of previous precinct polling stations in some counties.
Voters could go to the new balloting centers starting more than a week before the official Election Day. They could cast ballots there if they lived anywhere in the same county, not merely in the immediate area. This was supposed to increase turnout by allowing people to vote near their workplaces.
But it was predicated on voters doing their civic duty early. Most did not, in part because the Democratic presidential contest was changing rapidly before Election Day. Many voters waited until the last day, utterly predictable given the national primary election schedule.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who supervised the voting changes here, believed his operation would be much more professional than Iowa’s. Caucuses there, he noted, “were administered by a political party…California voting by elections officials.” But California’s election pros did an even worse job than Iowa’s amateurs.
True, there was little possibility results here could be altered by hackers, who were greatly feared by Padilla’s predecessor, Debra Bowen. She worked to prevent hacked voting machines long before anyone conceived of Russian interference with the 2016 election.
So all the votes will eventually be counted, even if long lines meant there will be fewer of them than there could have been.
President Trump didn’t say anything about California’s miserable performance on Election Night, but he didn’t need to. If Padilla and his cohorts at the county level don’t make big fixes before the November runoff election, they probably all ought to be fired, just like the folks who created Iowa’s debacle.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com