By Joe Piasecki and Gary Walker
From two hours at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Mar Vista to three hours at the Westchester Family YMCA Annex to as much as four hours at the Santa Monica Public Library, last-minute voters complained of long wait times and malfunctioning voting equipment throughout the Westside on Election Day.
The March 3 Primary Election was the first Los Angeles County election to feature a new electronic voting system, a network of regional voting centers instead of neighborhood precincts, and an 11-day voting period.
Those who took advantage of early voting reported breezing through nearly empty polling stations staffed with helpful volunteers. But those who waited for the Democratic Primary Presidential herd to thin before casting a ballot on the afternoon of March 3 might as well have walked into the DMV on a Saturday.
In Westchester, a power outage temporarily shut down voting at the Westchester Senior Citizen Center, and voting machines stopped working on two occasions at the YMCA Annex, according to complaints aired on the social media network Nextdoor.
“No matter where I went the lines were beyond anything that I have ever experienced,” Westchester resident David Mitzman wrote. “Ended up at LMU and still waited in line almost 50 minutes. This will be a travesty if they allow this to happen in November.”
Young Democrats of America activist Christen Hebrard wrote on Facebook that her wait at the YMCA annex was “three hours exactly.”
“I waited over an hour at the senior center. … very long line. The power went out when I was about the tenth person from the door to vote. … I called it a day and went home. Did not vote,” Pat O’Callaghan wrote on Nextdoor.
Justin Levine told The Argonaut he found more than 50 people in line at the senior center around 2:30 p.m., extending wait times to more than 90 minutes — beyond the time he could afford to cast a ballot. Even longer wait times at other locations later in the day caused him to sit out this election — a rarity for him over the past 30 years, when wait times of 25 minutes seemed excessive to him.
Despite reports of broken voting machines or excessive voter check-in times, he feels the problem was reducing thousands of neighborhood voting locations to about 1,000 regional voting centers. “This forced more voters to try and cram into far fewer voting stations that were further away from voters’ residences,” he said. “No amount of tweaking the technology will change that fact.”
A spokesman from the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s Office said Monday that county election officials were hurrying to count provisional and late-received mail-in ballots to certify election results, but are gearing up for an extensive investigation of issues of voting centers. Concerned voters should email firstname.lastname@example.org with specific observations to aid in the investigation, but are asked to spare workers from anger and abuse — of which they are receiving plenty, he said.
In Mar Vista, LA Forward founder David Levitus reported nearly three-hour wait times at Stoner Park, and resident Greg Castelnuovo-Tedesco got in line at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church about an hour before Sunset and didn’t leave the voting booth until an hour after.
“It seems one problem they were having — we witnessed it — was people walking away with their printed ballot, thinking they had to cast it into a bin near the door, instead of at the machine,” Castelnuovo-Tedesco said. “It also seemed like they had enough voting machines, but not nearly enough poll workers to check people in — maybe a handful of people.
“I’m a person who’s concerned about voter suppression, and this just plays into conspiracy theories and very real concerns about people being denied the right to vote,” he said.
Teresa Benson, a poll worker at Short Avenue Elementary School in Del Rey, reported that location being swamped all day, with only three poll workers pushed to their limit for 17 straight hours without lunch or dinner breaks.
“The doors opened at 7 a.m. and there was a line that never stopped. Two check-in machines, and one down for five hours. Five voting booths. At 8 p.m. we had a line around the corner. By then we had everyone take a seat in the auditorium, and every seat was taken, so we could close the polls. We had people voting for another 2.5 hours after polls closed. Then we had to do all the closing procedures,” she wrote on Nextdoor.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin posted to Facebook at just after 11 p.m. that there was still a line of people waiting outside Santa Monica Public Library to cast ballots — some who said they’d waited more than four hours. “I am grateful for their dedication, but disturbed that it’s required,” he wrote.
Online video shared by news organizations also showed long lines at Virginia Avenue Park, where resident Charles Lindner reported on Facebook that the line was already a block and a half long by 4 p.m. on Election Day, though he was pleased with the way voting machines functioned (“nothing short of miraculous”), the accommodation of voters with disabilities and enthusiasm among voters despite long wait times.
Santa Monica City Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich heard complaints about long lines at both locations. “I had calls about people who were in line for more than two hours at the library. Voting should not be this hard,” she said.
Instagram user @kay_maw tells The Argonaut she waited from 5:10 p.m. until around 8 p.m. to cast a ballot at the Virginia Avenue Park. “The actual voting booths weren’t filled. The back-up started with check-in process,” she wrote. “I do not want to repeat that experience.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said her office was inundated with constituent complaints.
“We need a full investigation of the challenges that voters faced, and these issues need to be fixed before this November. The hours-long wait times that many voters experienced on election night are unacceptable,” said Hahn in a statement. “This new voting system was meant to make the voting process easier and more accessible for voters, with opportunities to vote-in-person over 11 days, machines designed for people of all abilities and multilingual ballot marking devices. Some hiccups are to be expected with a new system, but there were widespread reports of problems.”
Lisa Phillips told The Argonaut via Instagram it took her 45 minutes to vote on Election Day at the Marina Manor Senior Apartments on Via Dolce in Marina del Rey. She said poll worker volunteers slowed down the process being too hands on — one even looking over her printed ballot against her wishes.
“They took it from my hands to insert in the machine when I did not want their help and they intervened on every step in the ballot process as if I couldn’t follow the instructions,” she wrote. “I did not feel my vote was private.”
Voting at the Dockweiler Youth Center in Playa del Rey appeared to go much more smoothly, with just a five-minute wait at 1 p.m., according to community organizer Julie Ross, and a 50-minute wait at 4:30 p.m., according to Playa del Rey Trash Fairies neighborhood cleanup effort founder Sara Kay.
Playa del Rey resident Karen Gaines said the new election system went smoothly for her a week before election day, long before the crush of late voters.
“I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t know how to use them, but with help from the volunteers and by reading the instructions on each screen the process was very straightforward,” she said.