When Voting Rights Go Wrong

Posted May 25, 2016 by The Argonaut in News

There are few safeguards against importing non-local voters into neighborhood council races

By Gary Walker

Former California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Venice resident, has concerns about voter eligibility safeguards in the upcoming neighborhood council election

Former California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Venice resident, has concerns about voter eligibility safeguards in the upcoming neighborhood council election

The emergence of a business-backed candidate slate for the June 5 Venice Neighborhood Council election and an apparent loophole in the definition of who is eligible to vote are raising concerns about ballot integrity.

With a crowded field of nearly 70 candidates for 21 council seats, it’s a challenge for voters to weigh the merits of each candidate. As Election Day approaches, however, some are drawing lines between slow-growth and more business-friendly candidates, with attitudes toward development a key issues.

An email sent to an unknown number of local business operators is not only encouraging support for a prescribed slate of candidates, it also calls on business owners to provide employees and “others” with documentation that would allow them to vote as Venice stakeholders.

Eligible voters in neighborhood council elections include anyone who lives, works or owns property in the council area as well as those who claim to have a “substantial interest” in the neighborhood, such as affiliations with schools, churches and nonprofits.

Citywide Neighborhood Council Elections Director Jay Handel said oversight of “employee letters” — an employer-authored certification of employment that allows their workers to vote in neighborhood council elections even if they live outside the area — has always been part of the voting system, for better or worse.

The major concern, he said, is that there aren’t solid failsafe measures in place to make sure someone coming in to vote with an employee letter in hand is actually an employee of that business.

“For years we have had a very loose election system. Can I prove that [anyone with a letter] works in Venice? No,” Handal acknowledged. “There are no safeguards. Am I concerned about it? Of course I am. But those are the rules.”

The slate email circulating in Venice appears to encourage business managers to write letters for people who aren’t direct employees, including vendors.

“Here is the list of acceptable voters. You need to get as many of your friend [sic] and employees to vote on June 5 at Oakwood Community Center. Please look at the sample letter and generate one for your employees and others if necessary. Put it on letterhead and give it to employees and vendors,” the email states.

Carl Lambert, owner of Venice Breeze Suites and other commercial properties in Venice, told The Argonaut that he is supporting the candidates on the slate because he believes they will “provide every Venetian due process and a fair hearing.”

Former California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who lives in Venice, said it’s reasonable to worry about a voter eligibility mechanism without safeguards against abuse, especially in this coming election.

“The stakes are very high, because the issues of homelessness and development are at the [forefront] of the election here in Venice,” said Bowen. “If this were an election at the state level and I was still secretary of state, I would run this in a much different way.”

Handal said the Los Angeles City Council had an opportunity to tighten up neighborhood council voter eligibility controls when similar concerns came up years ago but didn’t act.

“My feeling is there have to be changes. I think the City Council needs to better define what community interests are. If you’re going to allow letters with no way to verify if the person is an employee, chances are people are going be skeptical [about the outcome of an election],” he said.

Bowen did note, however, that when signing an election card voters are declaring under penalty of perjury that they are eligible to vote in that election.

Venice Neighborhood Council Parliamentarian Ivan Spiegel, also an independent elections inspector for the city department that oversees neighborhood councils, is concerned about the potential for voter fraud.

“When special interests come in and try to take over a neighborhood council, you lose respect because people will feel that they’re no longer represented,” Spiegel said.

With concerns about large-scale development and gentrification driving local political discussion, the chair of the council’s Land Use and Planning Committee is perhaps the most influential seat on the board — one that could set the tone for how the council treats development proposals.

Current Land Use and Planning Committee Chair Robin Rudisill is facing multiple challenges to her reelection bid.

Architect Matthew Royce and accountant Thomas Sauer are also running for the seat, while land use consultant Brian Silveira qualified for
the ballot but told The Argonaut he’s dropped out of the race.

Prior to Rudisill’s election in 2014, many said the council was too amenable to large-scale developments.

But now some are accusing the current board of being too hostile to developers.

Lambert said the controversy over development is not about overdevelopment, but about “fairness of process.”

Royce is among the 10 candidates listed in the slate backed by Lambert.

“My primary issue as a candidate is the lack of housing that regular folks can afford in Venice,” Royce said. “It would be far better to be able to purchase a smaller home for less than a million dollars, or rent an apartment and only be spending about a third of your income on housing costs.”

Royce declined to elaborate his thoughts on Dan Abrams’ Abbot Kinney Hotel project and the failed 1414 Main St. hotel proposal. As for controversy surrounding the Gjusta restaurant and bakery on Sunset Avenue, Royce said he didn’t “know enough about the specifics of the Gjusta situation to properly comment on it.”

Rudisill has voted in support of the Abbot Kinney Hotel, against 1414 Main, and recused herself from voting on Gjusta.

Sauer refused to answer questions, except to write in an email: “No comment. Please end status quo neighbors!”



    Mad Voter

    Funny how this article worries about who votes in the Venice Neighborhood elections but doesn’t mention how easy it is for illegals to register to vote in California


      “… Automated voter registration is actually a more secure way of doing things,” potential voters “have to demonstrate proof of age, the vast majority of time people are showing a birth certificate or a passport, which also reflects citizenship. That’s arguably more secure than someone checking a box under penalty of perjury,” Padilla said.

      Tiburcio Vasquez

      that’s some Trump racist b.s., go back to the midwest hillbilly town you came from mf … wealthy white developers should be “illegal” … and I bet they do a lot more “illegal” stuff than Mexicans. In case you forgot, Mexicans and Indians were here first.

    Actual Venice Resident

    The VNC elections have ALWAYS been a joke when it comes to who is “eligible” to vote! The first and only time I went to vote, I was in a line behind a busload of homeless people that apparently all had enough of an “interest” in Venice to qualify for voting in the election!

    Angela McGregor

    AVA: Exactly! The people complaining about contractors who work in Venice voting in this election are the same people (Social Services industry) who padded the election roles with recent arrivals they found sleeping on the beach. There must be 100 “voters” who all list their address as the St. Joseph Center!

    Shawn Williams (Venice Resident, with a real job, unlike you)

    Is this article supposed to be informational? What did they teach you at the communications department Gary Walker? I suggest you go help with St. Joseph Center and contribute to the society.


    Mechanisms that allow neighbors who are often disenfranchised from representative government to participate in neighborhood council voting, specifically low-income people, undocumented people, and unhoused people, means that neighborhood councils have the potential to be bastions of true representative democracy. Neighborhood councils can serve as a shining example as corporate influence and big money corrupts elections from City Hall all the way to the White House, especially in a post-Citizens United world.

    NC’s can be a model of better government, that are more responsive to all constituents, by providing as much education and information, with as few barriers to voting, for true stakeholders, especially those most directly-impacted by the issues debated by the NC’s (again, the lowest-income people, undocumented people, and unoused people).

    When business interests collude to corrupt this system, we all lose, because it discredits instead of encourages truly democratic government. Giving explicit instruction to support a specific slate, especially to those who would otherwise not vote at all, corrupts the system. Educating voters about the issues and the positions of various candidates, and making it as easy to vote as possible enhances democracy. Providing transportation and ensuring people have the proper documentation to reflect their real stake in the community, which make it as easy to vote as possible, is an enhancement to democracy. Using the tactics of East Coast big-city machine-party politics, such as exchanging favors, goods, services, and sometimes even cash for votes, corrupts it.

    Walking the line between broad enfranchisement and corruption can be tough, but we can definitely do better than this.

    Tiburcio Vasquez

    I heard the all-White, Venice pro-developer slate spent a LOT of money and won… so much for “diversity” and fairness. How much are they getting paid? Here comes the Apartheid slate…. let’s watch what they do…

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