Guest Bloggers: Peter Foley and Andy Sinclair, "Early Voting in Los Angeles County: 31 October, 2008"

Editorial Note: This is another voter experience guest blog. Andy Sinclair is a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology; Andy wrote the text. Peter Foley is also a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology; Peter provided the photos in the slide show at the bottom. I made the slideshow from Peter’s photos. RMA.

Early Voting in Los Angeles County: 31 October, 2008

Written By Andy Sinclair

Peter Foley accompanied me as I ventured down to vote at the only early voting site available in Los Angeles County, the County Registrar’s office in Norwalk. For those of you unfamiliar with Los Angeles County, Norwalk is not at all centrally located in the county: we had good luck with the traffic on the freeway and it took half an hour to drive from Caltech and another ten minutes to find a place to park. At that point, the adventure began.

We arrived in the middle of the lunch hour and the line circled around the block (see accompanying photo). We watched the Sherriff chase away and ticket a vendor selling Obama shirts and signs across the street – although it wasn’t clear to us if this came about because they were too close to the polling place or because they parked illegally (see accompanying photograph in the slideshow). With some good fortune, the people in the line around us were very pleasant and so we had a nice conversation as we waited and watched the local television news crews interview some of the waiting voters. This took about thirty to forty minutes.

At that point, I could pick up a number (Green 108) and the clerk at the desk instructed me to go sit in the tent behind him. I peered into the tent and observed that I wouldn’t have a place to sit in the tent, so I sat on the grass outside. This was nice enough until someone came along and chased us inside the tent. There, I waited. We figured by a rough calculation that there were somewhere between 300 and 500 people inside this tent. We had no idea how long this would take: the woman in front with the bull horn shouted about ten numbers at a time in no particular order.

For example, she would shout – and I quote – “Ya’ll listen for your numbers.” Then a list: “457 Pink. 4 Green. 166 Pink. 185 Pink. 308 Pink. 107 Green. 200 Pink. 50 Green.”

I observed that some voters got so fed up that they just left. We noticed that a lot of numbers came up in several cycles – implying that their holder either couldn’t hear or gave up and left. Several voters, hearing their numbers called, yelled “Bingo!” This seemed most appropriate. After two hours, the harassed woman in the front called 108 Green, and I went to vote.

It turns out, an “Early Ballot” in LA County is just an absentee ballot given to you by hand. I traded in my number ticket for the ballot and went to vote in the area of polling stations, set up in a side-tent. This was more or less like voting in a regular polling place, including the usual screw-ups like voters showing the officials their ballots and asking if they are filled out “right.”

By the time I arrived back in the office at Caltech, I had invested four and a half hours in this voting project.

We did come away with at least one concrete suggestion to improve the voting experience: if the officials called people in some sort of numerical order then at least we would know how long we had to wait.

A Slideshow of Early Voting in Los Angeles County, October 31, 2008.

Photos by Peter Foley.