Some Westside neighborhoods have so few registered voters that ballots must be cast by mail

By Gary Walker

Casting ballots by mail rather than trekking to the polls on Election Day has become so popular that in some voter precincts, polling places can feel downright lonely.

In the 2014 primary election, nearly 70% of ballots cast throughout the state were done so by mail, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office.

But some who prefer to cast their vote in person are now finding out they can’t — even in high-density Westside neighborhoods.

Richard Yaker, who moved into a South Del Rey luxury apartment complex opposite Playa Vista earlier this year, is one of those people.

Yaker received notice in April that he would have no choice but to vote by mail.

“I knew that I wasn’t an absentee ballot voter, so I was surprised to see it,” he said.

Because so few of his neighbors have registered to vote, Yaker lives in what the Secretary of State’s Office deems a vote by mail only precinct.

Local election officials can designate a precinct as vote by mail only if there are 250 or fewer registered voters there as of 88 days before an election. California Election Code makes clear that officials can’t split up precincts to create conditions for a vote by mail only precinct, but it isn’t as clear why Yaker’s or any other vote by mail only precinct couldn’t be combined with another nearby.

Yaker’s neighborhood is not the only vote by mail only precinct on the Westside. There are four others west of the 405 between Santa Monica and the LAX area, according to
the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.

While he admits voting by mail is probably more convenient, Yaker is concerned about his ballot making it to the Registrar-Recorder’s Office on time to be counted on Election Day.

“I’d prefer to have a polling place where I can walk in, vote and get my [“I voted”] sticker,” he said.

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder spokeswoman Cecilia Gòmez-Reyes said not to worry — voters who live in a vote by mail only precinct can drop of their ballots at any precinct if they choose not to mail them in. Voters who move into a vote by mail only precinct weeks before an election or lose their mail-in ballots can cast a provisional ballot at another polling place, she said.

But learning where the closest walk-in precinct is located could also present a challenge, said Ivan Spiegel, a Venice resident who has been a Los Angeles city elections inspector for more than two decades.

“It sounds like this is more about saving money than anything else, because it costs money to open a precinct and then staff it and open an office,” said Spiegel.

Not true, says Gòmez-Reyes.

“Sometimes they are isolated areas, and voters would have to travel a long distance to get to the polling place,” Gòmez-Reyes said. “Cost savings is not a factor.”

Spiegel said voting by mail is a “great service” for those who live far away from walk in precincts, but like Yaker he too prefers to vote in person.

“I want to see voters and engage with them. I want to go to my own precinct, which is two blocks from my house. For a lot of us, voting has become a neighborhood event,” he said.

Gòmez- Reyes said that if a vote by mail precinct’s number of registered voters increases before the general election in November, the area will be assigned a precinct for in-person voting.

Yaker said he’ll vote one way or the other, but was most of all disappointed to learn that so few of his neighbors have registered to vote.

“It’s kind of a sad commentary on how we look at voting as a society,” he said.