Stop Demonizing Dean

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Dean Logan finally got Angelenos to care enough about elections to actually vote in them.

For this, media and politicians are demanding he be investigated and terminated.

It really is Chinatown, Dean.

Let me start by saying that I’m a fan of Dean, who is L.A. County’s registrar-recorder, a job that makes him the elections chief. In addition to his local role, Dean has been a leader in statewide efforts to modernize California elections.

The case against Logan is that there were long voting lines and hours-long waits to vote on Election Day earlier this month. Given how low turnout often is in L.A., you might think this would be cause for celebration. But no.

I actually think the long lines and other election day issues are evidence of Logan’s success. The lines were a product of a mostly successful new system—which was tried out in LA for the first time in this election—to make it much easier to vote. It is by any objective measure an improvement. More people get mail ballots, including many of us automatically. And instead of having to find your own precinct on election day, you can vote in the two weeks leading up to the election at any one of hundreds of voting centers in the county.

So you could vote at a voting center near your work. You could vote on a weekend. Or you could mail things in.

The long lines problem was not Logan’s fault. If you insist on assigning blame, it should go to a state that moved up the election to March’s Super Tuesday, just three days after the momentum-turning South Carolina primary. An unusually high number of Californians waited to vote because they wanted to see who had survived South Carolina among the Democratic presidential candidates. (I confess that I was one of them).

The state also has underinvested in infrastructure around voting and deliberation. Logan and his fellow county election officials have done the very best they could in this environment.

Instead of taking responsibility for failures, state officials unloaded on Logan, who should have been praised for pulling off many advances. The LA Times piled on, which is outrageous since the paper has failed for years to devote sufficient resources to informing voters.

To defend Dean is not to say there isn’t room for improvement. More and better-staffed voting centers would be useful, though the resources for those will probably have to come from the state. In the meantime, let’s stop trying to make Dean Logan the scapegoat for California’s election shortcomings.

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