NAACP calls for probe into possible voter discrimination
By Caitilin McAdoo, Bay City News Service
December 5, 2006
RICHMOND (BCN) - The Richmond branch of the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People has asked the Contra Costa
County Elections Department and the state and federal departments
of justice to investigate allegations that some minorities in
west Contra Costa County faced serious obstacles to casting their
votes in the Nov. 7 election.
Long lines and pencil shortages were not the only problems reported
in Richmond and North Richmond communities during the recent election.
The Richmond NAACP stated in a letter written Friday that some
"African-American voters may have been improperly turned
away from the polls at Wilson Elementary School" in Richmond.
In addition, the NAACP has reported that several polling places
that were once located in African-American communities were moved
to majority white areas.
"People want to vote in their own community," President-elect
for the Richmond branch of the NAACP Ken Nelson said yesterday.
The elections department consolidated and changed polling places
throughout the county for the Nov. 7 election, but some of those
consolidations did not make sense to people in affected communities.
For example, according to Nelson, residents of unincorporated
North Richmond were told to vote at the same polling place they
had voted at in past elections. Next door, however, residents
of incorporated areas of north Richmond were told that they now
had to go to Point Richmond to vote, which meant that they had
to get on the freeway and drive to an unfamiliar neighborhood
to cast their ballots, Nelson said.
"The process was flawed and a detriment to voters, especially
seniors (who have trouble getting around)," Nelson said.
Nelson said that 99 percent of the voting problems reported in
the county occurred in west Contra Costa County, which has a higher
number of minority voters than other areas of the county.
"It casts a cloud of suspicion over the whole process,"
he said. The county does not have a history of discriminatory
voting practices nor is the NAACP claiming that the obstacles
were intentionally placed, but Nelson said, "Regardless of
what their intentions were, they disenfranchised a community ...
and that's what matters in the end." Nelson said, "It's
Nelson said his office received about a dozen phone calls from
frustrated voters immediately following the election, but since
news has gotten out that the NAACP is calling for an investigation,
his office is now receiving several complaints a day.
While many of the complaints have come from people who did manage
to vote in spite of difficulties, the NAACP is looking to find
those people who were not able to navigate the difficulties and
were effectively prevented from voting, Nelson said.
Some voters saw the problems before Election Day and told City
Councilman John Marquez that they would not go to a different
community to vote. Marquez worked with the elections department
to set up a table in the community where voters could cast provisional
ballots, Nelson said.
According to Stephen Weir, county clerk for the Contra Costa
County Election Department, 107 voters cast provisional ballots
at that location. Countywide, 87 percent of the 9,250 provisional
ballots cast were counted in the final elections tally. About
10 percent of Richmond voters cast provisional ballots, which
is slightly higher than the county average, Weir said.
According to Nelson, a large problem was that only people who
knew about the provisional ballot table could take advantage of
By law, people who show up at an incorrect polling place on an
election day should be given the opportunity to cast provisional
According to Weir, some reports indicate that some voters may
not have been offered a provisional ballot.
Inadequate notification of polling place changes and inadequate
training of poll supervisors contributed to the difficulties in
Nelson said. Weir said that training logs indicate that all poll
workers were given the requisite training.
Weir said that he would be conducting a thorough investigation
into all of the allegations. He has begun by looking at the elections
department's complaint log and said he plans to read the journals
that poll-workers were asked to keep to document problems.
"There are some instances where we have asked people to
travel excessive distances," Weir said. He said he will be
examining how to improve the process for future elections and
will be asking for input from communities throughout the county.
In spite of the difficulties, voter turnout in west Contra Costa
County did not appear to be significantly impacted, Weir said.
In fact, 57.37 percent of Richmond voters showed up at the polls
on Nov. 7, which was "exactly what it was in November 2002,"
Nelson said that the Richmond branch of the NAACP has contacted
the civil rights divisions of both the state and federal departments
of justice and asked for an investigation. The Richmond NAACP
branch has also contacted Congressman George Miller, California
Secretary of State Bruce McPherson and the legal counsel for the
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