Topangans Endured Long Lines to Vote on March 3

Voters waiting in line for an hour or more at the Topanga Library on March 3, 2020. Photos by Annemarie Donkin

Long lines, an overloaded computer system, and overwhelmed poll workers plagued the Primary Election Day Countywide. Topanga was no exception as more than a 1,000 residents lined up at the Topanga Library on March 3 and waited for hours to cast their ballots. There were two major changes to voting in the primary this year: voting over an 11-day period and new touch-screen voting stations that replaced the manual ballot-marking devices and accommodated all people regardless of language or physical limitations. 

Instead of being assigned to neighborhood polling locations, the 5.4 million L.A. County registered voters could go to any center in the County, where they could get their ballots generated based on their home address. 

Those are all good ideas yet none of the new systems seemed to work as people in L.A. County instead lined up for hours to check in by computer and use the new voting machines that proved slow and buggy. This was true even for voters in Topanga who held off voting early and, instead, found themselves on the last day, waiting in a line for about an hour when they showed up at the Topanga Library Community Room. 

In fact, the Library was a regional voting center and therefore had been open from Feb. 22 to March 2 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 3 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. or the close of voting. 

“We have been here all week,” said a cheerful poll worker who preferred to remain anonymous as she told voters they might want to come back later in the day. “We had 79 voters on Monday; 55 on Sunday; 50 on Saturday and 50 on Friday.”

Most Topangans seemed fine with waiting while they checked their ballots, read the voting materials or chatted on their phones. 

Ben Nethercot, a 40-year resident of Topanga, said he would wait it out in line instead of coming back later in the day.

“It usually takes me ten minutes to vote, you are in and out that fast,” Nethercot said of the old voting device system where people signed a paper roster. 

Dennis King, of the Topanga Peace Alliance, after voting.

Dennis King, a member of the Topanga Peace Alliance, had just finished voting and said that the new system was “just fine. It was very easy and the people were very helpful,” he said.

In contrast, one voter said he had not read his voter material informing him of the changes, became upset, and argued with the poll worker and a woman in line, saying it was “voter suppression” and he was planning to report this to the county as he stormed off. 

Voters experienced the same problems at voting centers throughout the county, resulting in some calls for the resignation of L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan, who oversees elections for the county and who had championed the new voting system. 

The new system took over a decade to develop and cost $300 million. “Guaranteeing every citizen the right to an accessible voting experience has been the highest priority for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office,” Dean stated on his office’s website, adding that he will be performing a detailed analysis of what worked, what did not, and what can be improved.

In an open letter to her constituents, Los Angeles County third District Supervisor Sheila Kuelh wrote that the county must do better.   

“While there were many successes surrounding our new voter systems for the primary election, it’s clear that major improvements will need to be made prior to November in order to ensure that all voters can more easily cast their ballots in a timely manner,” Kuehl wrote.

“Secretary of State Alex Padilla and others have floated the idea of sending all voters a vote-by-mail ballot so each person can have the option of either mailing in their votes, or going to a polling place leading up to Election Day. The Board will be looking at this and other solutions in the weeks to come to improve the voter experience for everyone.”

 

INSIDE THE LIBRARY

During an observation of the voting process going on inside the Community Room at the Topanga Library, I noticed utter disarray as the designated “Leader” was wandering around and trying to assure the voters in line that they would be next. 

The obvious “chokepoint” was the checking-in process, where two poll workers used a computer database to look up residents and determine their eligibility to vote. Voters who read their sample ballot knew to bring it with them to the polling place, where it would be scanned by a poll worker. 

Voters who did not bring their sample ballot had to be entered into the system manually, causing delays. Unregistered voters could register on the spot and vote provisionally. 

 

HOW DID LA COUNTY VOTE?

While nearly 3.5 million ballots are still being counted statewide, Los Angeles County was able to project winners in several races that directly affect Topanga.  

In the Democratic Presidential Primary, Bernie Sanders (37.8%) edged out Joe Biden (28%) by 427,658 votes to Biden’s 317,260 votes. 

Under California’s “top two” Primary system, the top two vot- getters in state races move on to the November election, even if one of the two receives more than 50 percent of the vote. Candidates in county and local races can win by a simple majority of 50% +1. 

Ted W. Lieu (D) United States Representative in the 33rd District, won (57.8%) with 83,786 votes. Second place was Republican James P. Bradley (19%) with 27,614 votes, and anti-EMF candidate Liz Barris (D) garnered third place (6.9%) with 10,063 votes.  

State Senator Henry Stern (D), 27th District, received 69.2%.  Republican challenger Houman Salem came in second, with 30.7% of the vote.

Ballots were still being counted when the Messenger went to press, but it appears that 50th District Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who received 77.5% of the vote, will be facing off against fellow Democrat Will Hess in November. Hess received 15.13%, while Jim King, also a Democrat, received 7.29%. The results of the race have yet to be certified. 

 

RUN-OFF FOR L.A. COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

According to the Daily News, Jackey Lacey won the office in 2012 and won again, unopposed, four years later. She’s the first woman and first African-American to serve as District Attorney since the office was established in 1850. Lacey is being challenged by Public Defender Rachel Rossi, touting experience with criminal-justice reform on the national level. 

Lacey may face a run-off this time with San Francisco DA and assistant LAPD police chief George Gascón. As of press time, Lacey’s lead had slipped from 50% to 49.95% while George Gascón had 27.66% of the vote, and Rachel A Rossi had garnered 22.5%. Ballots are still being counted.

Topanga’s Dorothy Reik (D), President of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains, easily won first place in her reelection to the County Central Committee, 50th Assembly District, with a record-setting 26,649 votes (12.9%), the most of any committee member in history. Paul Koretz (D) (10%), won second place with 20,642 votes, and Eddie Mendoza (D) (8.8%) came in third with 18,200 votes.

State Proposition 13, a $15 billion school bond measure, failed to pass. County voters overwhelmingly rejected FD, a Los Angeles County parcel tax to fund equipment for the fire department, but approved Measure R, which authorizes the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to develop a plan designed to reduce jail population and incarceration and gives the commission subpoena power to investigate complaints. 

For more information on local election outcomes, visit www.lavote.net. 

 

Annemarie Donkin
Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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