Chaos and gridlock again reigned across much of America as fourteen states chose their candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination yesterday on Super Tuesday. Many voters were forced to wait in line for up to six hours as understaffed and poorly equipped polling stations were inundated with voters, particularly in Texas and California, the two largest and most influential Super Tuesday states.
In California, electronic voting systems were unable to connect and experienced severe problems, something election integrity activists had warned was bound to happen. The law dictates that all those in line by closing time must be allowed to cast a ballot. But the technical difficulties meant that many stood in line through the evening for their right to choose. MOVE Texas, an activist focused on youth voter turnout organized lines at Texas State University in San Marcos, handed out pizza and bottles of water to those still waiting.
While the long lines were enough to discourage many from participating, the Associated Press called California for Bernie Sanders even as many people were still in line, potentially altering the result. Sanders’ campaign team requested an emergency injunction in California yesterday, asking for polls to stay open for an extra two hours, citing “extreme waiting times” and glitches with the system. This plea was rejected by Los Angeles judge Dean Logan. The gridlock meant that anyone trying to vote after work was likely subject to possibly waiting all night. “This was a challenging day for a lot of voters in L.A. County and I certainly apologize for that,” Logan said. “That’s something that has to be better.”
Other voters said they and even election officials themselves were unable to work out how to use the new electronic voting machines. Ken Proctor of Northridge, CA, realized too late he and his wife’s votes had not counted, as staff had incorrectly told them to take their paper ballots away with them. “I think we both were kind of disenfranchised,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
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Some angry voters claimed on social media that if a similar situation occurred in states such as Iran, the U.S. government would have used it as a pretext to intervene to “restore democracy.” Yet Iran did go to the polls last weekend, with authorities extending the closing time of the country’s 55,000 polling stations from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. due to a rush of voters.
The U.S. has far fewer polling stations per capita than Iran, and Southern American states have closed over 1,600 in recent years, worsening the problem. In Arizona, more than 1 in 5 polling locations have been shut down. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sees this as a clear attempt to roll back the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which saw most African Americans enfranchised for the first time. In the 1950s, only one in four African Americans were even registered to vote. The group notes that polling station closures correlate with locations with higher numbers of black and Latino citizens.
Many Democrats expressed their outrage over the problems. Kaniela Ing, a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives tweeted, “The line to vote at a Texas university 2.5 hours after the polls closed. Lots of young people of color (Sanders base). We should be ashamed of a system that allows this to happen.” Meanwhile, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich demanded, “Someone please tell me why voters in Texas and California have to wait in endless lines to vote. Was it really that hard for voting officials to anticipate these numbers? Voting shouldn’t be like trying to get into a rock concert or sports event. It’s a right.”
Yet given the shenanigans the party pulled to prevent Sanders from achieving the nomination in 2016, the Iowa fiasco and the fact that the establishment candidate usually wins a low turnout race, perhaps it would be more accurate to see the problems of last night as a feature, not a bug. Are Democratic officials attempting to subtly suppress voter turnout in order to scupper Sanders’ electoral bid?
The Democratic establishment will be very pleased with yesterday’s results, where they successfully coalesced around Joe Biden as a “stop Bernie” candidate, the former vice-president taking at least nine states, jumping him a little ahead of Sanders in the delegate race. However, it was a much worse night for the two other major candidates, Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren. After spending well over half a billion dollars on advertising and marketing, Bloomberg was able to get only 12 delegates. He quickly dropped out, endorsing Biden. Warren, meanwhile, finished a disappointing third in her home state of Massachusetts, picking up only 28 delegates last night, compared to Sanders’ 328 and Biden’s 380.
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