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Numbers are in — poll workers top list of California voter complaints

Rhys Buchele, left, and Serena Cline wait in line to vote at the George G. Golleher Alumni House during the 2012 presidential elections at Cal State University, Fullerton in Fullerton, Calif., Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Local residents were given a chance to vote at the polling location at the university campus.
Anibal Ortiz/KPCC
FILE: Rhys Buchele, left, and Serena Cline wait in line to vote at the George G. Golleher Alumni House at Cal State University, Fullerton, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

In the weeks following the June 7 primary election, details are emerging about the kinds and extent of problems voters encountered at the polls.

Based on an information request to the Secretary of State, KPCC found that voters cited poll workers as their top complaint on election day. 

The complaints confirm what some voters told KPCC on primary day — that they ran into various problems when they tried to cast their ballots.

Data provided by the Secretary of State's office showed that 41 percent of complaints to a statewide voter hotline on election day involved poll workers. Voters had reported to KPCC issues like poor training, ballot shortages, confusion among rules and even poor demeanor among poll workers.

"I feel like the poll workers should be better informed," said Andy Hsiung, a voter in Pasadena who responded to a KPCC Public Insight Network query about voting day experiences.

A poll worker at Hsiung's polling location had no idea what to do when Hsiung ran into trouble with his voter registration, which he had updated shortly before the election deadline. 

In total, 8,452 calls to the statewide voter hotline were answered on election day. Of those, 570 complaints were submitted. After complaints about poll workers, polling locations and voting equipment ranked second and third, respectively, among the issues most frequently cited by voters.

Voter Hotline Complaints on Primary Day

Category Count
Closed Polling Place 36
Electioneering 6
ID Issue 9
Poll Worker Problem 234
Polling Location 71
Provisional Voting 17
SOS Election Day Observation Allegation 2
Vote by Mail Ballot 9
Voter Registration 65
Voting Materials 23
Voting Process Issue 22
Voting System Equipment 66
Other 10

Source: Secretary of State

Given that more than 8 million primary election ballots were cast, the number of complaints reported via the statewide voter hotline is quite small. Many of the state's 58 counties also run their own voter hotlines. 

During the 2008 presidential primary, the statewide hotline answered 12,488 election day calls. 

This year, about 90 people served as hotline operators throughout election day, according to Sam Mahood, press secretary for Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

In Orange County, election officials ran a separate voter hotline and the county received 3,436 calls on primary day. While each individual complaint isn't logged, officials reported that poll workers were among the top concerns in Orange County as well.

Voters there also had concerns about wrong polling locations and which presidential races they could vote in.

Orange County poll workers also called in with questions. The county took 1,169 poll worker calls on June 6 and 1,469 calls on June 7. County Registrar Neal Kelley said those calls included requests for help contacting other poll workers, questions about early set up of polling places and requests for phone numbers for election day help, among other issues. 

Information for Los Angeles County wasn’t available; election officials have yet to complete an analysis for the county's voter hotline.

“It takes us a couple weeks,” said Brenda Duran, communications director for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.

In California, many poll workers are volunteers, though they can be paid. Some receive just a few hours of training, and that may be a source of the problem.

"The training provided by the registrar was inadequate given the complexity of the current election process," said Ann La Clair of Beverly Hills. She said she was selected as a poll worker inspector a few days before the election despite lacking any experience as a poll worker. 

She said the precinct next to hers was understaffed and missing two poll workers, contributing to long lines. 

California takes longer to count its votes than most states. Final certification of primary results isn’t expected until Friday. 

You can share your election day experience with KPCC online. KPCC will also be answering questions about voting day issues during our "Hack the Vote" event Wednesday at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena. Registration is free, but RSVPs are required