As the long, languid Democratic primary vote count in California continues, a theory has taken hold among some fringe supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders: that he actually won the June 7 vote.
Internet sleuths of varying expertise have attempted to prove that the millions of ballots left uncounted on election night contained a Sanders victory over Hillary Clinton, but were prevented from being added to the count. The fact that 2.5 million early and provisional ballots were not yet counted when the networks called the primary has become another reason to doubt that the media can fairly cover the race.
Greg Palast, an independent journalist who exposed purges of voter rolls in George W. Bush-era Florida, lent his voice to the argument in an article late last week titled "How Bernie won California." His evidence was the number of provisional ballots -- cast by people who did not appear on the rolls, with the promise that their vote would be counted later -- and the difficulty that voters with "no party preference" had in casting the right ballots.
"I can tell you this: Senator Sanders won California," Palast said. "Let me do the math for you. Most of those late mailed-in ballots were what are called NPP, No Party Preference. These independent ballots were the ones that came in late because people had to switch their ballots. It’s a complex process, in California, that’s all I can tell you. The late ballots are Sanders ballots."
It's true that the ballots counted since Election Day have split more evenly between Sanders and Clinton than the early vote or Election Day ballots. When the networks called the race, 3,442,623 votes had been cast for either candidate, with Clinton leading by 438,537 votes. As of the last ballot update Wednesday morning, 4,693,010 total votes had been cast. Clinton's lead was at 445,366 votes.
But the water-torture nature of the count, which processes as few as 25,000 new ballots a day, has dangled out hope for Sanders supporters. On election day, Sanders won just two congressional districts and lost counties that his campaign thought were favorable, such as Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Yolo (home of the University of California at Davis).
Sanders has since won those counties and picked up five more congressional districts, including the 13th District, which covers the city of Berkeley and had shocked reporters on election day by apparently going for Clinton. Asked if the campaign believed that Clinton had won the primary, spokesman Michael Briggs pointed to a Los Angeles Times story about the slow and narrowing count.
"What is sure is that all the votes should be counted," he said.
The count has cut slightly into Clinton's delegate lead, but some supporters insist that a larger Sanders vote was suppressed. Richard Charnin, a freelancer who specializes in "JFK conspiracy and systemic election fraud analysis," has argued that "Sanders had 75 percent of the estimated 20 percent of voters who were disenfranchised," and that Sanders's weaker performance in states with electronic ballots suggested that votes had been stolen.
Few Sanders supporters endorse that theory, but in California, many are still lobbying the secretary of state (a Democrat) to count every provisional ballot, on the theory that they might otherwise be tossed. (Every election, thousands of ballots are spoiled for various reasons.) On the Bernie or Bust Facebook group's page Wednesday, an activist named Anthony Rodriguez reported that a direct action at a Los Angeles registrar's office had succeeded.
"Now that 66,500 NPP voters' Democratic ballots will be counted in Los Angeles as of around 1:00pm yesterday, this could mean the recovery of up to 580,000 uncounted votes in California," Rodriguez wrote. "That's an eighth of the votes of the state. We have 16 days to get the word out to Secretary of State Alex Padilla and every county in California, who need to follow LA's lead and get those votes in."
The California primary is not the first election to be eyed suspiciously by partisans of a losing candidate. In 2004, Palast was one of the most prominent critics of the presidential election in Ohio, arguing that an early wave of exit polls, which showed Democrat John F. Kerry winning, reflected what actually happened. (There were no exit polls in the 2016 California primary.) More than 200,000 provisional ballots, Palast said, had been left uncounted, probably enough to flip the states.
"Check Ohio's racial demographics, do the numbers, and there it is: Kerry won Ohio," Palast wrote. "And that, too, is a fact. A fact that could not get reported in the USA."