By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
I was a precinct inspector at a busy polling place in Hollywood during last Tuesday’s election, and saw my share of frustrated voters. Let me assure you of one universal truth: There is no such thing as a perfect election, in Florida, Los Angeles or anywhere.
Precinct inspectors are pretty much the final arbiters of who gets to vote on Election Day. The job, which pays $75 for 14 hours of work, fell to me after I had worked for six or seven years at two other polling places. My father and grandfather both served as chairman of the New York City Board of Elections, and Uncle Billy was elected to the bench there in 1954 by 64 votes -- the first Republican officeholder in Manhattan since my grandfather was elected sheriff of New York in 1909. I know the value of a vote.
Throughout the day at Hollywood-Beverly Christian Church on North Gramercy Place, the four clerks referred dozens of people to me for resolution of their voting status. Latinas would tell me the clerks couldn‘t find their names on the rolls after looking for the one on their driver’s licenses, and I would send the clerks back to the rolls, knowing that the Registrar‘s Office had correctly recorded not the last name on their driver’s licenses but the middle one -- the one Latinos routinely use as a last name.
For many first-time Russian and Armenian voters, I relied on a rudimentary knowledge of both languages to sort out complicated issues of spelling, reading, citizenship and registration in fairly short order. If a re-check of the primary rolls and supplemental lists that had arrived a few days before the election did not list them, I helped them prepare the provisional ballots, which have an application on one side, that require either a driver‘s license, a witness or two other forms of identification with the current address printed on it. The immigrants who came to me usually satisfied one or both requirements, but a number of our natives couldn’t do the same. After closing time, I learned that I had missed one voter‘s name on a list of inactive voters who had not renewed their registration or voted in many years. I’d given the man a provisional ballot, however, so his vote ought to be verified by the registrar.
Many of the elderly Armenian and Russian voters had trouble understanding the multiplicity of choices. U.S. Representative James Rogan‘s people had organized a get-out-the-vote campaign that brought Armenian voters to the polls by taxi, one driver told me. This seemed quite remarkable to me, since my precinct is in Henry Waxman’s district. Still, they came, and many were there to support a state Assembly candidate, Craig Missakian of Glendale. But they found it difficult to draw the spatial relationships indicated by the boxes that section off each contest, and when they asked for help, they often just voted for the first name in every list after they‘d selected their candidate. The taxi driver, also an Armenian-American, had to be repeatedly dissuaded from gathering a group of elderly voters at the polling booth and telling them something in Armenian that included the word ”Rogan.“ That’s called electioneering, and you can‘t do it within 50 yards of a voting booth.
On the opposite end of the electioneering equation, a group of four or five Latino teens attending the church’s school decided to stand outside the doors to the Sunday-school room where we were and yell, ”Down with Bush.“ The clerks admonished them, and they retreated to the second-floor landing and began again. I was out to lunch, so a clerk called police. I was slightly mystified to see the officers as I returned from lunch. They talked with the boys, who agreed to stop their protest.
AN African-American man, 6-foot-3 and about 220 pounds, and bare-chested under an open leather jacket, came in sporting a heavy chain with a Master Lock dangling around his neck. He was a musician who said he had moved from the St. Francis Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard to Beverly Hills, but he had no ID for either address. Instead, he offered a faded plastic Pennsylvania driver‘s license from State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State, where he said he’d taken a few courses; I would have taken him for a tight end on the Nittany Lions.
Since his name wasn‘t on any of the rolls, I made out a provisional-ballot application for him, and he left to get the ID we needed to complete it. He never came back. With regret, because I deeply believe that all Americans -- no matter how unusual they may seem to others -- deserve the right to cast a vote, I tore up the envelope when the polls closed.
Another man, this one a white guy in his late 20s in pretty ordinary clothes, produced a wallet bulging with IDs but didn’t have anything with his address on it. A sharp-eyed clerk noted that five or six other families were also registered at the same address he claimed.
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