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Why Sanders Voters in California Must Demand Ballot Images

Updated on February 25, 2020
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Ralph Lopez majored in economics and political science at Yale University. He is an advocate of "impact journalism."

Bernie Sanders, Sacramento 2016
Bernie Sanders, Sacramento 2016

Bernie Voters Thwarted in 2016

It was June 7, 2016, towards the end of the primary season, and Bernie had taken one hit after another. In the New York primary earlier that year, hundreds of thousands of voters had disappeared off the rolls, especially in Brooklyn, which was Bernie territory five ways to Sunday.

He grew up there. He was New York's kind of liberal. And the New York blocks and blocks of hipster condos and apartments were all but to a man and woman Bernie Bros.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman pleaded after the fiasco:

"if any New Yorker was illegally prevented from voting, I will do everything in my power to make their vote count..."

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said:

“The next president of the United States could very easily be decided tonight and yet the incompetence of the [New York City] Board of Elections puts a cloud over these results.”

2016 Bernie Sanders Voters in Maricopa County, Arizona

Then in Maricopa County, Arizona, which is basically Phoenix, the same thing happened. Maricopa County was another rich delegate prize, where half the population of the state lives. Worse, Maricopa suddenly slashed the number of polling stations in the county to one polling station per 21,000 voters, although one per every 2,000 voters at the very least is the national norm.

The change affected Latino neighborhoods the most. Bernie had been endorsed by the popular Arizona Latino congressman Raul Grijalva. Voters waited hours to vote in the scorching Arizona summer sun.

Election integrity activists found it suspicious that almost all of the complaints of botched or dropped registrations seemed to come from Sanders supporters. They noted that the master database run by the DNC for tracking Democratic voters and campaign contributions, the NGP-VAN, recorded the outcome of canvassing calls to voters who planned to vote in the primaries, and donations.

The database knew everything about whom someone was likely to vote for. One election activist remarked "it knows if you like anchovies." It went on and on. But still, there was a path to victory.

Bernie vs. Hillary in California

Ahead lay California, with its treasure trove of 494 convention delegates, nearly twice as many as even New York state. In California Bernie and Hillary Clinton were neck-and-neck, with Clinton ahead 2 points in the latest poll, within the 3 point margin of error. Shocking Bernie wins in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, and other states showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a nominally democratic socialist candidate was viable in heartland states.

The old man who called himself a socialist in his youth did not scare them, was not about to nationalize factories and send everyone to gulags. The idea of an "honest and decent man," as Noam Chomsky called him, seemed novel enough.

Clinton needed to put Sanders away in a decisive manner.

Although Bernie was now trailing in delegates, a big win in CA would re-energize his campaign. It would at the least be a brokered convention, with the all-but-presumed coronation of Clinton brought to a screeching, humiliating halt.

Convention floor fights might erupt, and Hillary's face shown across national TV fuming. Livid. Delegate seating might be challenged, with Bernie attack dogs calling attention to all those disenfranchised voters in New York, Arizona, possibly Nevada, Illinois, and other states where shenanigans ruled.

The kindly old gentleman at the top of the organization was always nice. Some of his battle captains were not. The Berners were not robots, some were itching for a fight, and even Bernie might not be able to reign them in. By convention's end there might be political blood all over the floor.

This is not what Hillary expected. From the day of her announcement, all smart money pooled to a Clinton presidency. Hillary had spent decades in public life preparing for this day. Lining up her ducks. Bending powerful people to her will. Her peccadilloes and possible crimes were strangely downplayed in the media.

All of news punditry was on the same page. You poor dumb Bernie schmucks, the online flame wars would echo. Hopelessly naive. As sure as the sun rises in the east, Hillary will be the nominee, and president. Every bookmaker in Vegas was offering steep odds on Clinton winning it all. It was the most in-the-bag election America had ever seen.

Then came the California primary came, and the shenanigans didn't even wait for voting to start. At 5pm on Monday (Tuesday was voting day), it was announced that Hillary had already won. Before the first polling place door had opened. The "super delegates" had lined up behind Hillary, and meant she was over the top. California was superfluous. Except it was not true. Nothing was decided until the convention.

On Monday night, in the entire major media, only Lester Holt of MSNBC had the journalistic integrity to declare that the contest was "still open.”

Make a long story short, the list of shenanigans in CA rivaled the rest of the season, with registrations being lost or incorrect, wrong ballot instructions given to independent voters, and in San Diego, election workers were even caught using white-out on Bernie votes. White-out.

Defying the neck-and-neck poll predictions, Hillary won by 12 points. The Sanders campaign was over.

Will History Repeat for Sanders in 2020?

This primary season, the CA primary has been moved up to Super Tuesday, March 3rd Once again, Bernie leads by double digits, 14 points ahead of Biden according to the latest poll, commissioned by KQED/NPR, and 22 points ahead of Buttigieg.

Again, clouds have been forming hinting at dirty tricks. The DNC has openly admitted, in a Florida court of law, that it could chose anyone it wants for the nominee, in any way it wants, up to and including sitting in a smoke-filled room, a reference to the party boss politics of the past. In a lawsuit brought by hundreds of Sanders supporters against the DNC, attorneys for the DNC argued that the Democratic National Committee would be well within their rights to:

“go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way.”

In other words, all of the work done by volunteers to win primaries meant exactly nothing to the DNC, which would rig primaries any way it wanted. No conspiracy theory here. The DNC said it flat-out.

Barcode Voting in Los Angeles County

In Los Angeles County, where the lion's share of the votes are, a system has been put in place which converts what the voter has pressed on a computer touch-screen into a barcode. That you can't read. The vote counting machine that the paper ballot is inserted into doesn't read the human-readable part of the ballot. It reads the barcode.

If you are in L.A. County, there are self-defense measures the voter can take.

  • Try not to vote by mail, since there is a longer window for mischief, when your ballot is sitting anywhere for days, and people with access are determined to influence the outcome.
  • Take two pictures of your completed paper ballot, one showing the entire ballot, and one closeup of the larger barcode. L.A. County has posted instructions for how to decipher the barcode using a QR scanner app. Ballot pictures can be sent to an organization like for analysis, or to the Sanders campaign itself. Although it is hopefully unlikely, any discrepancy in the human-readable part of a ballot and its barcode could be enough to trigger a full recount.
  • Do not use the phone app which generates a barcode on your smartphone to vote.
  • If you want to vote for president in the Democratic primary but are registered in another party (not as No Party Preference,) you can register as a Democrat at the polls and get a Democratic ballot. Or If you can register as No Party Preference and get a "Democratic crossover ballot," which is slightly different. The former is recommended by the Sanders campaign as a more reliable way of getting your vote counted. If you are already registered as No Party Preference simply as for a Democratic crossover ballot. If you are not sure of your registration status, go to (Secretary of State instructions page.)
  • Write to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and demand that the source code for both the ballot marking devices and the vote tabulation machines be made public. Padilla now touts the system as the "first open source system," but still refuses to allow the public to see the code.

Los Angeles County ballot, votes read from bottom QR barcode.
Los Angeles County ballot, votes read from bottom QR barcode. | Source

Finally, whether or not you are an L.A. County voter, California residents should demand that all counties post the digital ballot images that are made of ballots in most of the state. These are scanned images of the paper ballot as it enters the optical scanner vote-counting machines largely in use across the state. The new L.A. County system has this feature. The L.A. County Registrar for elections is Dean Logan.

Election integrity activists have been fighting for this for years now. Posting the images of the ballots, or making them available on DVD, is a way to initially verify that the vote-counting machines have not been hacked to add or subtract votes illegally.

With possible foreign power hacking of elections now a subject that is prominent in the media, vote-counting machine hacking is no longer a "conspiracy theory." More information on this is easily available by reading or contacting organizations such as Audit Elections USA.

Of all the forms of election hacking, vote-counting machine hacking is the most insidious, because malware adds or subtracts votes illegally and it is impossible to prove. Impossible because the fact is that judges have never granted a campaign access to the paper ballots for hand recount, so they may as well not exist.

The demonstration below from the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy illustrates how easy the hacking can be, and the machine need not be connected to the Internet.

California Sanders supporters have no reason to feel comfortable with Sanders' 14-point lead over Biden and 22-point lead over Buttigieg going into Super Tuesday, March 3rd. The voting systems are not transparent, and establishment figures are just as open and arrogant in their disdain for Sanders as ever. Hillary Clinton recently took time out of her busy schedule to say "Nobody likes him."

Since millions of voters had just made Sanders the victor in Iowa and New Hampshire, what Clinton obviously meant was that no one who matters likes him. The power brokers. The DNC. Who millions of voters liked was irrelevant.

Nobody likes him. Hillary is with the "in" clique on the playground, and Bernie is not. With the jocks. The blue-eyed, blond-haired prom queens.

By voting in person, taking pictures of their ballots, and demanding the ballot images be made available, Cali Bernie supporters can make it too hazardous to attempt a replay of 2016.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin famously said: "Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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