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Activists Share Evidence Of Voter Suppression Against California Independents

Editor’s Note

Shadowproof is publishing accounts from citizens about their struggles to force change at state Democratic Party conventions, participate in caucuses, or cast their ballots during primary elections. If you are willing to share your experiences with us, please contact editor@shadowproof.com.

The state of California misled poll workers and deliberately suppressed voters from No Party Preference or independent voters in the primary on June 7. This likely impacted the number of independent voters, who were able to vote for Bernie Sanders.

As of June 16, there are 1.3 million votes left to be counted in the California primary, even though Hillary Clinton was declared the winner more than a week ago. There are more than 691,000 provisional ballots to be counted.

Two volunteers, who stood outside polling places on the day of the primary, inform Shadowproof that they personally witnessed poll workers following improper procedure by issuing provisional ballots to No Party Preference or NPP voters. They spent the day holding up signs and attempted to ensure NPP voters would have their votes counted. They found out at the end of the day that multiple citizens would not have their votes counted that day.

Jane Freeman's sign

Jane Freeman’s sign

In West Oakland in Alameda County, Jane Freeman held a sign advising NPP voters to request Democratic crossover ballots. She understood if they did not ask for a crossover ballot then they would receive an NPP ballot that did not include a section, where a presidential candidate could be selected.

Freeman said an elections supervisor working for the county indicated crossover ballots from NPP voters were being placed in boxes for provisional ballots, even though voting NPP should not make a ballot provisional. She, along with others, informed the supervisor that he was wrong. The supervisor conceded an improper process was followed, however, it does not appear there was any effort to remedy the situation.

“At this time, when all this was happening, I had like 30 minutes before polls were closed,” Freeman recalled. “I feel like I have no idea what just happened. Because I thought I was doing the right thing telling people to request crossover ballots. So, they request the right thing but then their ballot is being put into the box that doesn’t get counted on the day of the election.”

Poll workers were also instructed not to offer crossover ballots to voters if they did not request one.

As of June 13, in Alameda County, Clinton has 160,167 votes and Sanders has 146,260 votes. There are about 64,000 ballots left to be counted.

Polling showed independents in California supported Sanders by thirty to forty more points than Clinton. Not counting NPP votes on the day of the primary would help explain how Clinton was ahead of Sanders about 15 percent before more than two million mail-in votes and provisional ballots began to be counted.

Eric Reynolds, a pledged delegate for Sanders, stood outside a polling place in Walnut Creek in Contra Costa County. He told Shadowproof he obtained permission from the voter registrar to hold a sign, which read, “If you are an NPP voting for Bernie, please request a Democratic crossover ballot,” as long as he was more than 100 feet away from the polling table.

According to Reynolds, at least a half dozen voters came to him with provisional receipts. He said five of these individuals had yellow cards indicating they were registered.

Reynolds entered the polling place to complain about a first-time voter, who registered in April, but was given a provisional ballot. He was told by a poll worker the first-time voter was not on the list, which made Reynolds wonder how many NPP voters were not listed in the state voter database. The poll worker shrugged.

After Reynolds returned outside to stand where he had been holding up his sign all day, a poll worker came out and demanded he leave. The poll worker claimed he was not more than 100 feet away as required. Reynolds disagreed and held his ground. He also asked if he thought something wrong was going on with NPP voters. All the poll worker would say is, “I’m just eighteen.”

An elections supervisor visited the polling place and requested Reynolds move. Reynolds maintained he was doing nothing wrong. Reynolds submitted a complaint with the supervisor related to the mishandling of NPP voters. Reynolds claimed the supervisor replied, “I have been doing this for a long time, and I have never seen it this bad.” She conceded the workers were following the wrong procedure and did not bother him with any more requests to move.

“It’s just suppression, heavy suppression. It’s evident,” Reynolds declared.

In Contra Costa County, as of June 10, Clinton has 93,799 votes. Sanders has 66,113 votes. There are about 49,000 ballots left to be counted.

On top of the firsthand accounts from Freeman and Reynolds, a poll worker posted a video after her training in which she testified to the fact that workers at the training were given improper instructions.

“I was told that all NPP voters are to be given provisional ballots,” she recalls. “I was told that these people are always to be given provisional ballots.” She adds, “I was bothered by that because I’ve always been told that those NPP voters in California can vote for Democrats and that their vote would be counted.”

At no point during the training, including in a slide show, was there ever any mention of crossover ballots, according to this poll worker.

NBC Bay Area additionally reported that the Santa Clara County instruction manual told poll workers not offer voter a crossover ballot “if they do not ask.” (Note: NBC Bay Area noted very little was done to publicize information so voters would know how to obtain crossover ballots.)

The way NPP voters were handled so upset Freeman that she decided she is leaving the Democratic Party. This is especially because not only was voter suppression reported in California, but in Arizona, New York, and other states there have been systemic problems.

“It feels like people are finally starting to get interested in the political process and to advocate for themselves because for so long politicians have been advocating for the people, who are giving them money. Now people want to get involved. Now it’s becoming harder and harder to vote,” Freeman suggested.

Reynolds believes what he saw was probably planned well ahead of the primary to help Clinton. After all, Alex Padilla, the secretary of state for California, spoke at the last fundraiser event for Clinton before June 7. And he blames the media for helping Clinton because it’s “all about timing and strategy.” The press announced she was the winner, and even though votes are being counted, everything is moving forward. So, not counting these votes on primary day helped delay results, which could show an effective tie or win for Sanders.

How NPP voters were handled appears to be symptomatic of the animosity toward independent voters in the 2016 Democratic primary. Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made no secret of her disdain for the independent voter.

Democrats do not want independents voting for the next Democratic presidential nominee, and they have vehemently opposed this because Sanders enjoys huge support among independents.

“Every American’s vote should count. One person, one vote. No matter who their choice is, they should count,” Reynolds declared. “As far as putting a strong hold on this—if you’re not Democrat, you’re not voting for a Democrat—that’s just ridiculous. That’s not democracy. That’s taking the voter’s rights [and] basically showing prejudice.”

Currently, Reynolds is working with an effort called “Ballot for Bernie.” It is not officially sanctioned by the Sanders campaign, but about 2,000 volunteers are observing the counting of mail-in votes and provisional ballots so all votes are properly counted. So far, multiple counties have flipped from Clinton to Sanders.

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey approaches the flight deck of the USS Boxer. October, 2015 (by Cpl. Briauna Birl, USMC)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."