Democracy in action — or not

The mess that was the voting for California Democratic Party delegates

I ran into Assemblymember David Chiu Sunday morning, outside the union hall where delegates to the state Democratic Party were being chosen. “Welcome,” he said, “to the exercise in democracy.”

You could call it that. Or maybe not.

David Chiu calls it democracy
David Chiu calls it democracy

It was definitely old-school: More than 1,500 people waited in a line that wrapped around the block, in the rain, for the chance to cast a paper ballot for seven men and seven women who would, perhaps, help move the Democratic Party in a new direction.

Except that not everyone waited. Chiu had paid to hire buses – I counted five – to bring in people from around the city, many of them Chinese seniors. Someone apparently told them that there was a separate line for seniors, because they all moved directly to the door, where the people managing the line had no idea that there was a special line for seniors. Maybe there should have been — I don’t like the idea of hundreds of seniors standing for hours in the rain.

And there’s nothing wrong with bringing your supporters to the polls on buses — all sides do this all the time.

But in this case, a lot of other people, including quite a few seniors of all ethnic groups and people with disabilities who had not arrived on the Chiu buses — waited, and waited, and waited.

Seniors from Chinatown said they were promised a special line, but nobody else knew about it
Seniors from Chinatown said they were promised a special line, but nobody else knew about it

Chiu’s folks had slate cards supporting his choices, who included some startling selections who can’t by any stretch be seen as anything other than supporters of the corporate Democrat model that lost the nation to Donald Trump.

Supporters of a Reform Slate were there, too, handing out cards. A lot of them were unhappy about the messy line and the messy situation.

It took almost an hour to get inside the Laborer’s Hall, where another completely disorganized line snaked back and forth.

A supporter of the Chiu slate uses a card to fill out multiple ballots
A supporter of the Chiu slate uses a card to fill out multiple ballots

Nobody checked to see if the people voting were actually registered Democrats. Nobody checked to see if the person signing in was actually the person voting.

That, Hene Kelly, who ran the vote in D19, told me that was the way it was supposed to be: “The Democratic Party changed the rules in response to the voter suppression in the South,” she said. “We decided we are going to trust people.”

Voter fraud is, in fact, very rare, and allegations of fraud are typically racist efforts to suppress the vote.

In at least one case I saw, a woman was filling out several ballots at the same time.

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The ballots were all in English, and the type was fairly small, so the woman who was filling out several – who refused to give her name – said she had to help her elderly relatives. But she wasn’t helping them vote – she was filling out the ballots for them.

I asked Chiu if that was legal, and he told me, “I have no idea. But the fact is that there were no bilingual ballots.”

I’m all for ballot access, and against any barriers to voting, including ID mandates. The fact that so many people care about the future of the Democratic Party is a wonderful thing. At least twice as many people voted this year as did two years ago.

Fewer people voted in D19 (about 700) and the situation was much more calm — in part because Hene Kelly was running things, and nobody messes with her.

But the situation Sunday morning at the Laborer’s Hall was, to be polite, a clusterfuck. “This is as bad as I’ve seen it,” former Sup. David Campos told me. At the very least, it looked bad.

I walked on to one of the buses and asked the people sitting there what groups they represented. “A lot of different groups,” one person told me. Chiu said it was a “grassroots effort from all over the city.” The money came out of his campaign funds.

At least one of the buses was run by Bauer’s, the company that has such bad labor practices that it’s been banned from running tech shuttles in the city. “I honestly had no idea that somebody hired Bauer’s,” Chiu said.

A Bauer's bus blocks traffic on 18th St as it waits to unload Chiu supporters
A Bauer’s bus blocks traffic on 18th St as it waits to unload Chiu supporters

Claire Lau, who was working for the Reform Slate, posted this account on Facebook:

At around 9:30am, the first bus arrived, carrying several dozen elderly Chinese people. They spoke Cantonese only and got behind the short line that had formed. As a native Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong, I approached them and handed them our slate card, and began telling them about what our slate stands for and how it’s different from David Chiu’s slate. Some of them were afraid to engage and avoided eye contact, but others seemed interested and asked me what the other card was about. I told them that the Chiu’s slate is in favor of building of luxury condos, but as a result, regular people like me, a teacher for kindergarteners and lower elementary school children, can’t afford to live in this city. Our slate is for building housing that’s for the regular people, not just for the rich. One woman even said in Cantonese, “Helping poor people, great! I like it!”, waving our slate card. When they used “I don’t know English” as an excuse to not take my card, I handed them a piece of literature about labor endorsing Keith Ellison for DNC Chair (part of our platform), that was translated into traditional Chinese. A few minutes later as I migrated down the line, I heard a man yelling, “NO! These are our opponents! Don’t look at this card! Use this one!” I saw a younger man in a white button up shirt, snatching our slate cards out of the hands of the elderly and stuffing another piece of white paper into theirs.

Oh, and the window for voting was two and a half hours – 10am to 12:30pm – and while the line moved a little faster at the end, that’s not a lot of time for that many people to vote.

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The final results
The final results

In the end, after hours of hand counting, the results were split in D17: The reformers won eight seats, the corporate Dems 6. In D19, all of the reformers won, but there were only 8 on that slate; six people from Assemblymember Phil Ting’s slate also won, but some of them were endorsed by some of the reformers.

48hillsasemd19

48hillsasmd19

But people walked away in D17 feeling that the process was far from fair. There has to be a better way to do this.

UPDATE: I do want to add that the fact that the Reform Slate did so well, up against the odds, is a tribute to the hard organizing work that the slate members did — and to the clear fact that San Franciscans are sick of the Party Corporatists.

 

  • Rainforester

    Crooked, through and through!

    Who paid for the buses?

    Pius Lee?

  • Don Sebastopol

    I agree about IDs. We should eliminate the ID requirement to buy a gun. It obviously discriminates against people of color who want to buy guns to protect themselves.

    • 4th Gen SF

      Agree.

  • Stephen M.

    As a HUGE fan of this site, gotta say some of the thoughts expressed in this article veered uncomfortably close to voter ID language. If we don’t like the way Chiu and others have organized Chinese-American voters in SF, then the answer is building our own machine and expanding access – not complaining about how effectively Chiu’s block is organized. I hope Cantonese-speaking progressives in SF start organizing seniors directly. They are natural allies.

    • Hi, Stephen, I think I made it clear I oppose any sort of voter ID requirements. I’m glad so many people showed up, and I don’t think we should criticize anyone for organizing their base, including Chiu. I just think the lack of clear rules, and the long lines, and the people filling out ballots for others, undermines faith in the process. On all sides. We can do better WITHOUT vote-ID laws.

  • Artivist

    Oh gee, and look at who won the big prize (under the corporate slate) using those sleazy tactics… Thea Selby. She’s as slimy as slimy comes. As manipulative as it gets.

  • Brian T

    Regardless of what side you’re on, this looks like an absolute sham / mockery of the democratic process.

  • Joel Streicker

    I have no problem with anyone busing their constituents to the polls: the civil rights movement did it, and anyone else with the resources to do it, including progressives, would be foolish not to. It’s not inherently undemocratic, in my opinion.

    What I object to is that the entire voting process seemed designed to discourage participation. Lines were avoidably long because:

    1) People bused in apparently cut in line to vote.
    2) There was a single ballot box for the each of the two ballots.

    Making it difficult to vote always favors the status quo. The Republicans have had great success with this–witness the recent presidential election–so I was particularly pissed that the Democratic Party would resort to the same tactics.

    Moreover, there was no attempt to verify that voters were, in fact, registered Democratic voters. I have no proof that anyone who voted wasn’t eligible, but the process should be set up so that this issue wouldn’t even come up. The standards for voting in this election should be the same as voting in local elections.

    Despite all the chicanery, the reform slate won 8 of 14 slots yesterday.

    • Artivist

      Reform slate would probably have won the whole thing, as well as Exec Board, had there not been manipulation by the corporate Dems using Chiu’s campaign funds. I’m going to say it over and over again… look at who’s name was at the top of the slate cards that were being shoved into the hands of the people who were being manipulated, and, oh gee, who just so happened to have *won* by Exec Board by such a wide margin? Same person who is desperately trying to claw her way into San Francisco politics in any way that she can, and actively gentrify the Lower Haight with her creepy AstroTurf “neighborhood association.”

  • SnapsMcKenzie

    What I find sad is Tim thinking that whomever controls the levers of whichever wing of an ancient and doddering American Democratic Party is somehow going to change things in this country, The only answer is separation and the only party working towards independence, and exclusively for the interests of California, is the California National Party (CNP).

    • Ragazzu

      Cynicism is surrender. Secession is cowardice.

      • SnapsMcKenzie

        Let’s chant in bumper slogans – shall we?

        • Ragazzu

          Ha ha. But they’re not wrong.

  • Rainforester

    Do the people who paid for these buses administer any of these properties?

    http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33871-families-live-jammed-into-chinatown-rooms-in-san-francisco

  • Heart

    Clair Lau’s account of the event is illuminating. The photo in Mr. Redmond’s story here of the woman writing on two ballots is astounding.

    • Heart

      It is also noteworthy that the woman pictured writing on 2 ballots has one of the “Rebuild The Democratic Party” (David Chiu’s Dem slate) slate cards, in addition to sporting one of their stickers. A number of the people who were bussed in had these same blue stickers on their clothing and coats as they exited the hall and boarded the Bauer busses. All under David Chiu’s watchful eye. He was standing on the sidewalk by the front door of the Union Hall when we arrived at 9:30 AM and the Bauer busses arrived and unloaded, and he was there to bid them a fond farewell as they left around 11:30 AM.

      • Artivist

        Those under the “Rebuild” slate in question also copied, word for word, the Reform slate platform.

  • Andy M

    I heard a lot of pretty ugly anti-Asian sentiment expressed all day long. The lines were long and there was a lot of cutting by all sorts of people, but for some reason all the ire has been unilaterally directed at elderly Chinese people.

    All the problems could be solved with longer voting hours. Voting didn’t begin until 1030 but the line had been forming for a while, but because voting closed so quickly people couldn’t come back later.

    Overall though, I had a pretty good time. If to to chat with a lot people and make a few new friends.

    It’s worth pointing out that almost all the winners in 17 were people who walked the line, shook hands and introduced themselves

    • 4th Gen SF

      Even this article & some of Tim’s wording. But apparently, it’s always ok if the left says racist things, flout laws. God forbid a RW’er does. Then it’s in the MSM immediately.

  • Huey Kwik

    Please stop calling people who disagree with your stupid housing policies “corporate.”

    • Artivist

      ^ Techie who voted for Scott Weiner (Republican in Dems clothing). ‘Nuff said. Corporate.

      • 4th Gen SF

        So what? Artivist do you even LIVE in SF anymore or are you still angry? BTW almost 38k TRUMP SUPPORTERS voted in SF. We’re not going away.

        • Heart

          And true blue progressives who seek to reform the corporate Democratic Party are more activated and engaged than ever. We are not going away. We are ready for real reforms in policy and governance. 4th Gen SF: did you come down to the hall and vote your convictions?

          • 4th Gen SF

            I’m not a Democrat. I’m a Republican who voted for Trump. One of the almost 40k in SF that did.

    • Brad Phillips

      SFYIMBY party is funded by property developers. They are telling overpaid young Stanford grads who work in tech that we need to stuff this city full of housing units for other young overpaid (insert Ivy League here) tech workers.
      The seniors from Chinatown will be the first to go in the Libertarian tech fantasy propagated by the trickle down housing antics of the Scott Weiner set. I don’t need more 20 something six figure bros telling me they know how the party of the working class Democrats does not cater to their housing needs.

      • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

        People with your attitude have been a dominant force in liming housing supply over the last 40 years leading us into the current housing crises and enriching the older entrenched land owning class. What we need are more homes for people, there aren’t enough.

        • Brad Phillips

          Tom you’re a Cornell grad class of ’13 complaing that he is a victim because he can’t buy a house four years out of school. I have a hard time believing you’re a victim fighting against a “older entrenched land owning class”.

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            I’m not complaining that I cannot buy a house 4 years out of school, I am complaining that there aren’t enough houses here. If I feel pressure in this housing market, as a young single male with a decent job, I cannot even comprehend how people who have less privilege than me can get by here. A society that cannot house its teachers, its civil servants, and its bus drivers because people complain that allowing room for them will disrupt the character of their neighborhood is a society that is fundamentally broken. Part of the solution to this problem is subsidies, and another part of the solution is building more housing.

          • Stephen M.

            Dude in 2017, you’re fighting a red herring propped up by libertarians. In other words, there are few if any anti-housing groups left in SF who are fighting for their neighborhood’s “character.” Spend some time at the Planning Commission or the BoS and I guarantee you that you’ll see few if any people who fit your idea of a NIMBY. Instead, the battlelines today are drawn between people who believe that a liberated market will solve our problems, and those who believe that some form of housing-socialism is a better solution. Progressive housing activists want TONS of a new housing too, but we just think the vast majority of it should be low- and moderate-income govt housing, funded by taxes on the wealthy.

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            Really, thats news to me:

            Where is the progressive support for the Forest hills senior center:
            http://www.sfexaminer.com/forest-hill-neighbors-oppose-150-unit- senior-housing-proposal/

            What about 1515 S Van Ness:
            http://missionlocal.org/2016/11/in-stunner-city-strikes-down-major-mission-project/

            Calle 24 is against turning a warehouse into new housing, a move that displaces no one, and in fact removes affordable units from the pipeline
            https://sfgov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2871128&GUID=DD613DDE-59EC-4529-953B-06137BF83E3C

            The basis for all of the complaints is that people want these buildings to be smaller. Smaller buildings means less units. Less units means less affordable units, and less people able to live here.

          • Stephen M.

            Yeah, progressives like me do tend to oppose MOST of the housing in the pipeline right now, so I see how it could look like we oppose all housing (and, to be fair, if you’re a market-housing proponent it doesn’t really matter what our reasons are, the end is the same as far as you guys are concerned).

            But just to clear the air, this is what we think: almost ANY new market rate housing (even projects that don’t directly displace anybody) will increase housing demand more than they increase supply, so the end result will be upward pressure on rents for everybody. We think basically that the amount of new market housing we’d truly need at this point to have the market begin to decrease rents is such a large number of new units that it’s basically impossible for capitalism to deliver in the short or medium run (we’re talking 100ks of new units that’d be necessary).

            So in other words, we don’t think there’s a market solution to the housing supply. And by making residential investment so profitable in gentrifying neighborhoods, new market housing makes the problem worse. But govt housing – which exists outside of the market and is allotted through a lottery system that cares more about a tenant’s veteran status, diversity, or whether or not they were formerly homeless – is great. It increases supply without increasing demand. The problem is marshaling the political will to both pay for new housing and shut of the spigot of real estate speculation in SF.

            So disagree with as much of this as you’d like. I’m not trying to change your mind. But this is what we think!

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            Thanks, I appreciate your honesty and politeness in response. its refreshing to hear someone on “the other side” who is intellectually honest and seems to actually care, as opposed to the parade of older land owners that seems to oppose everything with the end goal of either enriching themselves or preserving the city in amber. SF politics makes some strange alliances.

  • Termie

    The best way to reform this is to have real registration and open source ballot printing systems. People could hand count the perfect ballots to their heart’s delight.. and the party (and the state) would benefit from the ” cleaned up ” experience. San Francisco did better than other territories .. but the fact is we need to have set ground rules that are uniform and enforced. .

  • adrielhampton

    As volunteer-staffed, intraparty elections go, Sunday was pretty chill considering the horrible storm. Cheers to the many volunteers who spent all day counting ballots. Congrats to all the party activists taking the next step in involvement and leadership. Nice organizing by the Reform slate folks!

    • sebra leaves

      Yes, Thanks to all who showed up and voted. It was a stormy day and the crowd was fairly large for the venue. They probably didn’t plan for they numbers that showed up. That is social media for you. There was no media just word of mouth and internet.

  • sebra leaves

    Like your point that “the corporate Democrat model lost the nation to Donald Trump.” I’ve been saying that for a while now. Also their lack of taking care of their own in states like Alabama where Obama let the former Governor Siegleman rot in prison rather than pardon him. They/he killed the party in that state. Rumor has it, Hillary and Podesto tried to get him pardoned. No excuse for that.

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  • Heather M

    The voting wasn’t even at 10am. My family — including our 3 year old — lined up at 9:40 thinking voting would begin at 10am as stated. Nope. When I asked what was going on, I was told by organizers that the voting wasn’t even slated to start until 10:30am. Why advertise voting at 10am if it doesn’t start until 10:30am? We finally left at 10:35 — without voting — when no one was voting except those with disabilities and my daughter lost all patience and melted down. Cluster-F*ck is an understatement. We actually aren’t even registered Democrats. We’ve been decline to state our entire lives and we came out to register as Democrats for the first time and get involved. Clearly that was a mistake. If the Dems can’t even run a local election, how the hell do they think they’re gonna successfully take on Trump? We’re staying decline to state and will find other ways to get involved outside. On the plus side, I will be able to use this lesson on the failure of democracy when I teach American Government this Spring.

  • Porfirio666

    Debra Walker organized this. Deb, where were the bilingual ballots? Talk about a cluster-you-know-what. Someone needs to remind Deb that bilingual ballots help voters make educated choices. She needs to get back to her painting and leave politics to others.

  • D.E.L

    I was in line at 930 and was inside when the first bus rolled up. The organizer came in, moved the rope over and the “herd” literally shouldered their way past everyone in line. There was no one at the front of the line to control flow. Eventually when someone got up there the gentleman literally had to do the splits to control the crowd from the bus.

    I don’t know where this group get off, but they didn’t help matter at all.

  • Tai Mamoe

    While David Chiu was herding Chinese and African-American people off of chartered buses directly to the front of a very long, long line, I spoke with a great number of those off boarding. Admittedly, these folks were not familiar with the process or any candidates or issues pertaining to this election. I asked them if they had been instructed to vote a certain way, which they affirmed. I asked them if these people ever picked them up before on chartered buses for any other field trips and they said they are only picked up to vote.

  • Bruce

    what happened to no SOLICITATION of slate cards at the polling place? And notice no one in this thread is talking about the election being held in Progressive district ground zero. If you are concerned about the bussing, how about making the election more fair and having another location open up in this district as fairness????

  • con

    Sounds like stuffing the ballot box,and pressuring seniors is awful !And in this weather is abuse!

  • pitipua

    I was there in Daly City and it went on exactly as you described. The process went on so much more orderly and respectfully. And our progressive slate got a huge applause when they spoke! I feel proud that for once, someone I vote for wins! However, the influence of corporate dems was felt. No one told Phil Ting “Ten seconds!” when he was harping on and on about “keeping up our good work”, right after speaker after speaker had said exactly the opposite: “We want to change this party!” and a line of people hoping to speak waited patiently after him. That was annoying.