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LA County Elections Chief Apologizes for Long Lines, Chaotic Balloting as Voters Vent

March 5, 2020by John Myers, Sonali Kohli, Benjamin Oreskes, Liam Dillon and Julia Wick, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Kaitlyn Smith, center, 21, a senior at UCLA, has been waiting 40 minutes and a friend 40 minutes ahead of her has not yet voted as hundreds of students from California and various states wait to vote at the UCLA Ackerman Student Union on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Westwood, Calif. (Al Seib/The Los Angeles Times/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County’s new voting system was marked by long lines, snafus and growing anger among voters, with some waiting hours to cast ballots that continued well into the night.

“This was a challenging day for a lot of voters in L.A. County, and I certainly apologize for that. That’s something that has to be better,” said Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan.

“It was a heavy lift,” Logan said of the switch to the new system. “I had hoped for a smoother transition.”

Logan said the lack of check-in options at the vote centers was a major flaw.

“The choke point seemed to be the check-in process,” he said.

It was an ugly debut for the county’s new $300 million voting system. L.A. officials spent months trying to raise awareness about two big changes: the elimination of neighborhood polling places and the debut of ballot-marking touchscreen devices in regional vote centers, available to everyone and spread throughout the county.

Local voting officials blamed the delays on a combination of high turnout and glitches affecting the new election equipment. But they couldn’t provide information on how many of the county’s 978 vote centers were affected.

Voters fumed and demanded answers. As midnight approached, some were still waiting to cast ballots at several locations.

“This is like gridlock on the 405,” said Brentwood resident Myles Berkowitz, who was waiting in line around 8:30 p.m. “It’s an absolute disaster. The longest I’ve waited was in ’92 and that was for Bill) Clinton. That was an hour.”

Berkowitz stopped by the Hammer Museum in Westwood around 4 p.m. to vote but was told by a polling staffer that it would be a three-hour wait. So he drove to Felicia Mahood Senior Citizen Center in West Los Angeles, and stood in line for 20 minutes when a staffer there told Berkowitz that two of the center’s five voting machines were down.

The staffer warned it would be a 45-minute wait and suggested that Berkowitz head to another vote center at Brockton Elementary School. He drove there, only to be told it would be a two-hour wait.

Frustrated, Berkowitz headed back to the senior center, hoping the lines there had died down. They had not.

“They’re telling me, after waiting here for another hour and a half, that it’s another two hours,” Berkowitz said.

At Castlebay Lane Charter School in Porter Ranch, scores of people remained in a line that trailed out the door at 8 p.m. Poll workers estimated they would wait anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to cast their ballots.

“There was never a line the last several years,” said Craig Meier, a Porter Ranch resident who works as an executive assistant. At his old polling place at a church, “we were in and out within 10 minutes.”

Lesley Kyle put her 5-year-old twins to bed with just enough time to rush to Shepherd of the Valley Church, the closest vote center. She barely made it in, scurrying into place at the end of the line at 8 p.m., with one other woman behind her as Franchino, the poll worker, told voters that the line was closed.

Kyle’s husband, who was at home with the kids, had already mailed in his ballot, but she “wanted to just go over and verify my research on the judges and the measures,” she said.

She said polls should stay open later for those who can’t make it during the day and early evening.

“Who my children see is important to me, who represents my children, and the future and the well-being of my kids, is important,” Kyle said. She planned to vote for Biden.

But would-be voters outside the Montebello Senior Center said they were turned away at 8 p.m. even though they were in line hours earlier. Alyana Chavez, a 21-year-old student at Rio Hondo Community College, arrived at the senior center at 6 p.m. with her mother. Right as they got to the front of the line — two hours later — Chavez said poll workers closed the doors and threatened to call police when voters complained they had a right to vote because they were in line.

“Waiting there for two hours and not being able to vote, it’s really upsetting,” Chavez said, noting there were about 80 people in line when the doors closed.

In the San Fernando Valley, voters were waiting more than two hours outside Monroe High School to cast their ballots. Tensions rose when a poll worker pulled some voters into a separate line for those who had filled out their ballot selections online in advance and had received codes to transfer them to a ballot at the vote center, said Joe Meehan, 51, who was waiting with his wife, Katie. When she finally entered the building to vote around 8 p.m., about 350 people were still in line, Meehan said.

“When you’ve been waiting two hours and you hear how you could have saved time, it starts to get a little ugly,” said Meehan, who works for an event registration company.

In Westwood, a line to vote snaked around the second floor of the Hammer Museum as Angelenos fiddled with their phones, read books and propped up computers to do homework as they waited well past when the polls closed.

Around 8:30 p.m., the last person in line had been told they would likely be waiting up to 3 1/2 hours. Seated on a bench beside her 103-pound Saint Bernard, Sandra Kielgass laughed and chatted with new friends who came to pet the dog, Lady. Kielgass lives blocks from the museum and said she had gotten in line around 6:30 p.m. but didn’t expect to wait this long.

Pizza had been distributed to those waiting, but Kielgass was still eager to cast her vote and get home.

“I always go to a place late on Election Day,” she said. “It’s to be expected. I guess it’s a good thing it’s so crowded. People are voting.”

Closer to the front of the line, Daniel La Cava and Jason Nehoray stared off blankly, listening to music. They had both been waiting two hours and 20 minutes and expected to be there at least another hour. Nehoray, a UCLA senior, tried to go to the UCLA Ackerman Union vote center after class, but the line scared him off.

La Cava had stopped by the museum earlier in the day when the line was shorter but didn’t stay. Now, the battery life on his phone was his top concern.

“I didn’t prepare well enough for this,” he said. “I should’ve brought a book or something.”

———

©2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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