News And Politics

Election Day in South LA going (mostly) according to plan

Nov. 6, 2012, 3:52 p.m.

A sign guides ballot-casters to the voting booths in the Rittenhouse Square polling place. (José Martinez/OnCentral)

With the exception of some momentarily missing voting machines, Election Day polls in South Los Angeles seem to be going according to plan.

Trinity Elementary School near the intersection of Trinity and 38th streets was the site of the missing machines, which are devices that make it easier for voters to keep track of their ballot selections. According to Cecilia Reyes, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, there were "some supplies missing" this morning.

But that simply prompted poll workers to instruct voters to fill the bubbles on their ballots manually, like mail-in voters do. Reyes said the workers followed the back-up procedures "as they're supposed to" until the sheriff's department dropped off more machines, taking care of the shortage.

Voters were still able to cast their ballots without the machines in the meantime, but voter Jess Williams was evidently expecting something else. He said he was still upset even once the machine shortage was rectified. He said he'd arrived at 7 a.m., when the polling place opened, to cast his vote, only to be told of the technical difficulties.

"Right now they're having us bubble it in, like a test," said Williams. "They said, 'Bubble it in, it's the same as punching it in [with the machine].' I don't trust that. I might bubble in the wrong spot. But with the machine, you can flip the pages, see exactly what you're bubbling in. I might bubble in [Gov. Mitt] Romney. I want to vote for President [Barack] Obama. I might make a mistake, an error!"

Williams said he's never encountered an issue like this in his 32 years of living and voting in the area, and added he was "leaving now to come back later" and vote, since the problem had "not been taken care of."

'This is a community'

To the east, the affordable housing building Rittenhouse Square on the corner of Central Avenue and 33rd Street hosted another polling place. Gregory Alexander, the location's inspector – a position which he said makes him "manager of the poll workers" – said he tries to "run it like a little social or community event."

"We serve coffee and cookies and things like that, and when it's slow, the workers will sit around and chat with the other neighbors," Alexander said. "I encourage that to happen so it becomes a sense of community involvement."

Research methods differed among the voters who cast their ballots at Rittenhouse. Jesús Garcia said he tends to vote on ballot measures based on it supporters.

"Normally, the first thing I look for is to see who's behind the measures," he said. "That usually gives me the best indication of what side I'm going to be on."

Edgar Mitchell, on the other hand, looks to the news.

"I listen when a reporter interviews candidates from each side," he said. "Then you try and read between the lines of what they're saying or what they're not saying. Then you come up with your best judgment."

Both Garcia and Mitchell wanted to make sure they voted on Proposition 30, a tax measure backed by California Governor Jerry Brown that's intended to fund state schools. Mitchell also said it was important for him to cast a yes vote on Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of certain genetically-modified foods.

"Most poor people like myself can't afford to buy alternative foods, but you still need to know," he said. "Even though you might not be able to afford organic food, you still need the choice. You still need to be able to choose."

About an hour-and-a-half after polls opened at 7 a.m., poll inspector Alexander said about 50 people had voted at Rittenhouse, and that he hadn't seen any waits that exceeded 10 minutes.

'I don't care how long'

A few miles south, at the polling place inside Algin Sutton Recreation Center near the intersection of Manchester Avenue and Hoover Street, the line was long.

For most people, anyway. Celso Garcia managed to skip the lines because he was just turning in a mail-in ballot he'd already filled out. It was his first election in Los Angeles County – he's a transplant from Las Vegas.

He, too, was particularly interested in Propositions 30 and 37.

"I have children, so school is very important for me, because of my three kids," he said. "I'm a father of three, waiting on my fourth right now. My wife's actually pregnant."

He said Proposition 30 was the "main deal" for him.

"I researched it very well," said Garcia. "It took me a while to make my decision. I thought about it, talked to my wife about it and made a decision."

He added that he was "surprised that people are actually voting," but was "excited" to see strong voter turnout in South L.A. Tahei Moore, who exited the polling place after a 45-minute wait, said "[South Central] did good."

"It was more people than I expected," said Moore. As for his longer-than-usual wait, he attributed that to a lack of manpower.

"I think they need more people to look up the names of voters," he said. But once he was checked in, Moore said there was no problem.

But a wait of any length wouldn't be a problem for Stephany Lytle, who spoke with OnCentral on her way into the polls.

"I don't care how long [the wait is]," she said, adding that she's voted in every election since she registered nine years ago.

"It's important – very much so," she said. "I don't need anything going bad and affecting my livelihood."

Lytle added one of her biggest problems is that "the majority is the minority," elaborating that the best interest of America at large seems to be under attack by a small, vocal minority of special-interest groups.

"The majority is the minority," she said. "That's the problem."

'My addiction is methamphetamine'

Late on Tuesday morning, Armando Ochoa waited outside the Rita Walters Learning Complex, located near Manchester and Vermont avenues. He was there with a group of his fellow patients from a drug recovery center, all of whom had been driven to this polling place to vote.

The only problem was that Rita Walters Learning Complex wasn't his polling place. While he waited for a ride to the correct precinct, he said the most important thing to him was casting a yes vote on Proposition 36, which would modify the three-strikes law so that that a life sentence would only be imposed when a third-strike felony conviction was serious or violent.

Ochoa said he knew people who, because of the three-strikes law, have been put away for life on a drug charge.

"There's a lot of guys out there that are really innocent – they just have a disease, an addiction, and they're getting struck out," he said. "People that just have [drug paraphernalia] out, and they can't control that addiction.

"I'm one of them," he continued. "I can't control my addiction and I'm in a recovery center right now. My addiction is methamphetamine and alcohol."

Ochoa explained that he wants his vote to move the system toward a place where it rehabilitates the drug-addicted, rather than putting them in jail forever.

"People that are rapists – they're the ones who should get life, not people who are using drugs," he said. "Murderers, yes, they should get life."

But punishing drug users with jail time is unjust, he believes.

"You don't know what you're doing when you're high," he said."You don't know anything. It's unfair."

Ochoa says he's been clean, and that his recovery is "making me see the light, making me see things in a different point of view."

"If I'm out there on the streets, nothing's going to stop me," he said, walking toward his van that had come to pick him up and take him to the correct polling place. "Only thing that's going to stop me is a recovery center."

Have you voted yet? If you're registered, you still have time – until 8 p.m. today, to be precise. Check out OnCentral's voting guide so you can find your polling place and brush up on your candidates and propositions. Then check back with KPCC starting at 5 p.m. for full coverage of the 2012 election results.

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