Following the Trail of Palisades Voters

By ALYSON SENA Palisadian-Post Staff Writer My wake-up call was half an hour earlier than usual on Tuesday morning. I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. to make sure I had enough time to look over my sample ballot once more and pick up my mom by 7 a.m. ”Although I live in Brentwood now, my permanent address is still my parents’ house in the Palisades, so we all vote here. But unlike my father, Mom and I are early risers, and we wanted to vote first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. ”Well, it was a nice thought at least, beating the crowds. ”By the time we reached our Toyopa polling location just after 7, about 40 to 50 people were already packed into the tight quarters of the art-filled playroom. ‘I’ve never seen this many people here,’ Mom said as we stood in a check-in line. Those who had already received their ballots waited in a second line for voting booths to become available. ”Within minutes, a woman at the head of the waiting line announced, ‘The first booth doesn’t show the president. The president didn’t come out on my ballot.’ She had already voted and was back in the line. ”Confused, people turned to watch as one of the election clerks, Dennis Jackson, tested the machine to find the problem. It turned out that the machine was functioning properly and the woman had mistakenly thought that no mark corresponding to her vote for president had registered on her ballot. (If you look at all of those tiny blank circles for too long, you do start to wonder where your vote went to.) ”Jackson assured us that everything was okay, and he told me that a voter could spoil up to three ballots, including the original. Before 8 a.m., three people had returned to the booths to re-cast their votes after their initial ballots were voided. I let one man go ahead of me because he had accidentally smeared the ink on his first ballot. ‘He was checking for chads,’ Jackson said. ”Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus was among the 7 to 8 a.m. voters, and she brought her two kids with her, as did several other parents, probably before dropping their children off at school. I voted successfully, even with a colorful life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln hovering nearby in the corner. It was the first time I had ever voted at the polls, since I’d been registered as an absentee voter since college, and it felt good to make an appearance. ”On my way out I chatted with poll monitor Kelly Brock, who had arrived at Toyopa just before 7 to review her ‘Irregularities Checklist’ to make sure everything was set up correctly and running smoothly. Brock said she had volunteered to work at the polls this year because she wanted a fair victory. ‘You don’t want to hear on Wednesday that there were problems at the polls.’ ”By 8 a.m., I was at the Recreation Center, which was also busy with about 50 people voting. Just as I arrived, the overhead gym lights went out, but that didn’t seem to faze anyone, since the booths were well lit.” ”’I think there were more people and a little bit longer of a wait [this year],’ said voter Geoff Given, who was waiting outside for his wife, Synthia, and watching their baby sleep soundly in a stroller. ”’It’s so mellow here,’ said Palisadian Bill Rosenthal, a poll captain for the Democratic Party who said he was at the Rec Center ‘to call in any problems [to the headquarters] and contact people who haven’t voted yet.’ ”Rosenthal had voted earlier at the American Legion, where he had been asked to show identification, which he thought was unusual. However, with changes in the national voting laws, more people’such as new voters and those voting for the first time at new locations’were required to show IDs. ”When I reached the Legion at 8:30, about 20 people were voting or waiting to vote at the six booths. After voters checked in, they were directed to an InkaVote demonstration line, where a clerk showed them how to use the pen to mark their ballots. ”’The ink pen has to be used a very particular way,’ said poll watcher Diane Martindale. ‘The voter practically has to grind the thing in to make sure it counts.’ ”Lead inspector Irma Delgado was busy helping people with provisional ballots, since some voters’ names were not listed on the rolls, or their address and name didn’t correspond, or they were in the wrong precinct. ‘You just try to keep a sense of humor,’ Delgado said. Voter Aaron Broder’s name wasn’t on the rolls when he showed up to vote. So even though he said he had registered to vote about a month ago, he still had to fill out a pink provisional ballot envelope before waiting in line. ”Another man coming out of a booth just wanted to make sure he got his ‘I Voted’ sticker, an important souvenir to new and old voters alike. Even kids well under the voting age wore them proudly after their parents voted. ”Wearing my sticker as I entered the Lutheran Church polling location at 9:15, I noticed two tables on opposite sides of the room, each with its own set of voting booths. These distinct stations represented two different precincts, and voters had to be careful to vote at the right one. ”That’s where Palisadian David Wells came in. A senior trial lawyer for the District Attorney’s office, Wells had volunteered to work at the polls for the first time since his college days. The DA’s office thought it would be a good idea, he said. ”In his position as neighborhood voting center director, Wells said his job was to direct voters to the correct check-in table based on which precinct they live in. ‘The ballot has to go in the right box with the right precinct,’ said Wells. ”Lead inspector Tom Shepherd, a veteran poll worker, said that ‘the tremendous volume of people and the lengthy ballot’ could add to the possibility of mistakes. ”Shepherd had previously worked at the Bel-Air Bay Club, which also had an ‘exceptional turnout’ Tuesday, according to lead inspector David Hariri. He and his wife, Mali, arrived at the serene upper-level facility at 6:15 a.m. to set up seven voting booths, which overlooked the endless stretch of crystal blue ocean. It’s hard to imagine that any voting gets done amidst the distracting beauty of the sparkling sea view. ”Only a handful of people were voting when I arrived, but Hariri told me about 270 people had already cast their ballots, ‘more than double the volume of people’ he’d seen in previous years. ”By 10:30 a.m., I was back in the village and visiting Mort’s Oak Room. Two hundred and fifty people had already voted, according to lead inspector Deirdre Sloyan, who said that about 50 people were waiting to vote when the polls opened at 7. ”’What saved our lives was how many people we had helping,’ Sloyan said, pointing out seven volunteers and adding that others were on a break. Palisadian Iris Kameny said she hadn’t worked at the polls since the 1960s, when they had to tally all the paper ballots separately, but now that she was retired she was ‘doing my civic duty because I can do it.’ Not until about 9:30 in the evening could lead inspectors like Tom Shepherd drive the ballots to the checking center at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, where they would wait until the ballots were safely handed in. ” ”As it turned out, the unprecedented number of people who voted at polling locations in the Palisades reflected the record turnout nationwide. More than 114 million people had voted with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press figures on Wednesday. Absentee and provisional ballots would boost that number to an estimated 120 million, the highest percentage turnout in more than three decades.