Stemmen in eigen huis

Nieuws | de redactie
7 februari 2008 | ScienceGuide-columnist Jonathan Mijs beleefde Super Tuesday van zeer dichtbij, want er was een stembureau in de woonkamer van zijn huis in Berkeley, California. Hij vertelt hoe het kan dat mensen urenlang na sluiting van het stembureau nog naar binnen wilden, en hoe tijdens een primary ook even over de bekostiging van het hoger onderwijs wordt beslist.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to experience the AmericanPresidential Primary Elections from very close by. Veryclose, since one of the approx. 50 polling stations inBerkeley was located in my house. In the living room, to be exact.(If you look close, you can see the Alpha Chi Sigma mark on theporch steps and on banners in the living room.) Since the number ofvoters wasn’t that high, I had plenty of time to talk to thevolunteers in charge of the polling process (‘poll workers’) andtook a look for myself at the polling equipment and procedures. Ofcourse I also did my part in maintaining order and efficiency (Ibrought them coffee) and when the polling station closed, I joinedmy housemates for long hours of watching voting outcomes ontelevision. Let me share with you some of the peculiarities that Icame across.

One of the first things I noticed at our polling station was thespecial box designated for ‘provisional’ votes. This box embodies acomplicated set of regulations (barriers, if you ask me) for thepolling process. First, voters have to register in order to be ableto cast their vote. This canbe problematic since registration is state-based; therefore youhave to vote in the state where you have been registered. While itmight be just a minor inconvenience (for a large group of people;estimated around 20% of votes cast in California were sent in bymail), yesterday’s election showed another disadvantage of thesystem: time-lag. Voting by mail was opened weeks earlier thanvoting at the polling station. This had a great impact onCalifornia: 10% of Democratic votes were cast on John Edwards, acandidate who stepped out of the race days before ElectionDay.

Of course there are always people who forget to mail in theirvotes. Add to that the number of people who failed to show a valididentification at the polling station, the people who registeredjust before the deadline and those who for another reason did notshow up on the list of eligible voters. In all those instances,people were allowed to vote, but their ballot was put in theprovisional box. By estimation of the poll workers, about 50% ofvotes cast that day, disappeared in that box. I think I can easilystate that, together with the great turnout, these regulations layat the core of the problems that polling stations faced yesterday:on Stanford campus, there were huge lines of people waiting as thepolling station ran out of ballots; we had people knocking on thedoor hours after ‘our station’ had been closed who thought to havefinally found a place where they could vote; and of course it takesa lot of work to thoroughly check the great number of provisionalvotes.

Iedere stemmer krijgt na afloop een sticker op zijn hoofd.

Another thing that I didn’t know about before yesterday was thatevery state adds to the ballot a number of state-specificpropositions for people to vote on. Effectively, together withpicking their favorite presidential candidate, voting day featuredseveral hundreds of referenda nationwide. In California thesepropositions concerned topics ranging from allowing nativeAmericans to open new casino’s (56% voted YES) to reducing thefunding of community colleges (58% voted NO).

A third peculiarity that I want to merely touch upon is the votingsystem’s decentralization. As we already saw in Iowa, there is -first – a distinction between states that have primaries and thosethat have caucuses. A second distinction is that between stateswhich hold Democratic or Republican elections, or both. Then thereare states with a winner- takes-all system and those without,states with binding elections and those without, states which allowfor Democrats to vote for Republican candidates (and vice versa)and states who do not.

One last thing we should keep in mind: it’s not the total numberof votes that count. What matters is the number of counties won.The number of counties won, determine the number of delegates thata candidate has ‘won’. I’ve put the word won between apostrophes,as only some of every state’s delegates will be voting for thecandidate that the people voted for. A number of delegates – calledsuperdelegates – have the opportunity to decide for themselves whoto vote for. As these superdelegates make up approx. 20% of alldelegates (796 out of a total of 4049), it is not an easy job topredict the outcome just yet.

I can however, give you the results of the Democratic votes castin our house. Barack Obama: 140; Hillary Rodham Clinton: 70 (andapprox. another 200 unidentified votes in the provisional box).Altogether a 2-1 victory for Obama and a pretty accurateopposite of the state-wide results. I guess Berkeley is alittle different…

Jonathan Mijs

Although I won’t go into it muchfurther, it is important to know that registration excludes fromvoting all Americans who a) are in jail or serving parole(approx. 2.3% of the population and 10% of all youngAfrican-Americans men); b) in many states, that have been convictedand served time for specific felonies (an estimated total of 5.3million potential voters); c) that have been found to be mentallyincapable to vote by a court of law. See, for moreinformation: and

For an extensive list, see:

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