Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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California: More on Reports of Ballot Shortages and Confused Indies

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 11:26 PM EST

SAN JOSE, CA — I just got off the phone with California Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland, who confirmed that the party has experienced ballot shortages in some places. "The good news is people want to vote on the Democratic ballot," he said. "The bad news is some of these places are running out of ballots." Even so, the shortages have been isolated he said. Polls will stay open until people have the chance to vote, and they can cast ballots on blank sheets of paper if need be.

I also asked Mulholland about the reports of independent voters not being given Democratic ballots, which has been a major concern of Obama people here today. About 10 to 12 percent of Democratic ballots cast in California today are predicted to come from independents, who favor Obama by a significant margin. (The GOP does not allow indies to vote in its primary but the Democrats do). Mulholland said independents received emails and sample ballots informing them of their rights. "All of our poll workers have been instructed to give them a Democratic ballot if they ask," he said. "Has that happened every time? No. But the independent voter has to have some responsiblity (to ask for one) too."

Meanwhile, here in Obama HQ in San Jose, things are crazy. It's standing room only, it's cheers for each state (sometimes prematurely), it's hand wringing and genuflecting over Utah. "Come on everybody, send Utah your feelings," a girl in fatigues shouted. "Send Utah your love!"

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Democratic Party is Running Out of Ballots in Parts of California

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 10:22 PM EST

SAN JOSE, CA — In a sign of how huge turnout is in parts of the state, the Democratic Party is running out of ballots. The Obama campaign tells me this is a problem in Stockton and Fresno, and San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. In the latter two places, some eight to ten polling places have reported shortages, Luke McGowan, Obama's deputy regional field director there, says. The Democratic Party has told him voters will be allowed to fill out blank ballots, writing in their choices, he says. He does not have information for other parts of the state, so I can't yet tell you how big the problem is. There's only an hour and a half left to vote in California, so any glitches must be fixed fast (unless the polls stay open longer). I'll post on this again if I find out more.

CA Live Blog: The Polarizing Politics of Pronunciation

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 9:40 PM EST

SAN JOSE, CA — This place is packed! Some forty phone bankers are pitching some major woo. They're doing a great job reading their scripts, except when they get to this part: "It's time to move beyond the polarizing politics of the past." Ok, sure, Scarlett Johansson pulls off this line in robo calls without a hitch, but for average people, it's kind of a persistently perilous problem. Chuck from Chicago, who's sitting next to me, has said the PPP at least 100 times, and he's still not sure he's mastered it. "I can't figure out how to make it sound natural," he said. It might be time to try out something else. Maybe our readers have some suggestions. Nattering Negativity of the Nineties?

CA Live Blog: What to Expect Tonight

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 8:02 PM EST

SAN JOSE, CA — Polls in California close in four hours, but it might not be possible to declare a winner in the state until Wednesday morning.The high turnout, high numbers of absentee voters, and use of old-fashioned paper ballots in some areas (Diebold machines were nixed here as unreliable) means it will take a long time to tally everything. That said, the Obama folks in here in Santa Clara County hope their districts might be decided by around midnight, and I'll be here as long as it takes. If you're a true political junkie, stick with me. This is in many ways a belwether district--whoever wins here has a good shot at taking the majority of the state.

Live Blog from CA: Bring in the Big Guns!

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 7:17 PM EST

SAN JOSE, CA — Just now I was reading the California newspapers from my fold-out table in Obama HQ when a woman sat down at my elbow and logged into a MacBook. She hunted and pecked, fretting over her email. I figured her for just another first-time volunteer. Turns out she was U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, pecking out an email to the county's top voting official. You've got to love Lofgren--if not because she's campaigning for Obama, then for her ability to carry off the standard-issue DC pantsuit along with a very cool pair of blue-and-pink silk Chinese slippers.

Lofgren and her son had just come from eating lunch downtown at Teske's Germania, where she dines before every election. She'd ordered a gigantic pork shank. "It's kind of a good luck charm," she said. "I was going to actually order a salad because I've been trying to lose weight, but I didn't want to break the luck."

Lofgren has been in Congress for 14 years and has never seen an election bring in so many new volunteers. "In a Democratic event I walk in and I know everybody by name," she said, looking around the room. "These are all new people." Most volunteers didn't know her either--no crowd had gathered round until word got out who she was.

This is to be expected of a campaign that has harnessed a new wave of young voters. Several guys working the phones right now haven't even started growing facial hair. It's fun to watch these kids make things up as they go. This morning San Jose State student Sarah Bronstein was talking with another college kid about the Obama pitch they were reciting over the phone to voters. "It's a shitty script," she said. "They should write is as if someone is actually talking." So she tweaked it--one of countless of small examples today of DIY.

Excitement today goes beyond young people and Obama. This is the first time in recent history that California has played such a prominent role in choosing the presidential candidate, and the first time since the '50s that the election didn't feature an incumbent president or VP. Turnout is expected to resemble the much higher numbers of a general election. Of course, the bigger crowds at the polls have made snags more likely--which is why Lofgren has swooped in to fire off an email to the county elections chief. Obama staffers here had received a few reports that poll workers were incorrectly telling independent voters that they couldn't vote in the Democratic primary. If that problem becomes widespread, it would favor Clinton and hurt Obama, who polls better among independents.

Update: Lofgren's concern appears to have been merited. The Washington Post reports that confusion over independent voters and Democratic ballots has been widespread. Still, it does not yet appear to be a major factor in the race.

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