Alameda County runs out of ballots

Alameda County predicts it will shortly run out of Democratic ballots in many of its precincts, a sign of unprecedented turnout and exceptional interest in the outcome of today’s primary election.

“We’re seeing the problem countywide but especially in Berkeley,” said Alameda County spokesman Guy Ashley. “We printed enough ballots for every registered Democrat and more but it wasn’t enough.”

While the information is largely anecdotal so far, Ashley said the problem appears to stem from a large number of decline to state voters who are voting in the Democratic primary.

The county is also seeing larger than normal numbers of unregistered voters showing up at the polls, Ashley said, and members of other parties demanding to vote for one of the Democratic candidates. The county allows them to vote provisionally but they are disqualified during the verification process.

In California, the Democratic Party allows decline to state voters and members of the American Independent Party to vote in its primary. The Republican, Green, Libertarian and the Peace and Freedom parties do not.

In Alameda County, as the peak voting time arrives in the next few hours, many voters will instead mark their choices on photocopies of the ballot, which will not be counted tonight. Provisional ballots require verification of the voter’s eligibility and it can take days or weeks to count them.

A dozen or more Contra Costa County voting precincts were running low on Democratic ballots today, too, prompting county officials to dig out extra copies of mail-in ballots. The county also has the ability to print extra ballots.

An apparently high number of decline-to-state voters electing to vote in the Democratic primary tapped into the supply, said Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Steve Weir.

“In order for this to happen, it takes an extraordinary voter turn-out,” he said.

The shortfall was especially alarming given the relatively early hour.

Typically, one-third of voters visit the polls before 4 p.m., while the bulk vote after work and into the evening.

Contra Costa County supplies each of its 800-plus precincts with more than enough ballots to accommodate every registered member of each of the political parties plus the nonpartisan or decline to state voters.

“I don’t quite understand it yet,” Weir said. “I’m still trying to figure it out. There may be a targeted get-out-the-vote effort in this area or just high turnout.”

As a side note, I also wondered why pollworkers would allow people to vote if they aren’t registered or are not eligible to vote in a particular party. But county officials say it’s not appropriate to adjudicate voting disputes in the polling places or turn away voters. A voter may be eligible to vote but for a technical reason doesn’t appear correctly on the rolls. A subsequent investigation through the verification process will resolve the issue.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen