Talking to voters this week, I came away with an overriding impression of their calm determination, standing in contrast to the agitated appeals from political groups on left and right and the drum of urgency in news reports.
One such voter was Verona Tang, who runs her own wholesale packaged food business in Los Angeles. I first interviewed her during California’s presidential primaries in which she picked her fellow business person Michael Bloomberg.
But that election, in terms of its mechanics, was a fiasco.
The elections clerk in Los Angeles County, the largest and most complex county voting jurisdiction in the nation, thought he was bringing the old ink-punch system forward into the modern era by replacing elderly volunteers with modern computer terminals. It was a bad idea.
Voting in that election, before the pandemic took hold, I stood in a short line for two hours. When I finally reached the door into the balloting area, a couple city employees were directing voters to a few computer terminals. Voting was proceeding at a glacial pace.
Afterwards, standing at the stairs leading down and away from the polling station, I interviewed a good number of would-be voters who had turned out of line, saying they would try again later. The clerk in a 10 million-strong Democratic jurisdiction had done more to suppress the vote than any Republican lawyer ever could.
In the wake of that debacle, California state officials revamped quickly by returning to paper and ink, and mailing paper ballots to each registered voter in California. The ballots could be mailed or dropped in sturdy boxes, one of which is now sitting at the curb outside the same City Hall in Pasadena where the line had been so long.
This time, said Tang, “I voted for Biden.”
She was not enthusiastic about her choice, but better than the alternative. “He is more stable mentally.”
“Honesty is very important,” she added, referring to the incumbent. “Yes, I think there is a problem with honesty. He is not bad for business at all, I have to be honest,” said Tang who was born in Taiwan and started a business called Arroyo Kitchen, that has been expanding right through the pandemic. “But business is related to other situations. There is safety, a sense of union, and all these people having hatred towards each other — it is very unhealthy.”
She is in favor of the most expensive of California’s ballot measures — which would exempt ride-share drivers from the new state law requiring employee benefits for gig workers — but the measure, Proposition 22, is splitting voters who came to the ballot box.
“I think the companies are being a little bit greedy,” said Brenda Yi, a recent graduate who is looking for a job in the fashion industry. After pushing her ballot into the box, she said she voted against the measure. “A lot of the drivers are working full-time.”
On the flip side of that opinion, Katherine Baker, another female professional who started her own business, saw the California Legislature as trying to roll time backwards. “It’s turning it back into a taxi service,” said Baker, who runs her own architectural firm. “I know people who drop their kids off at school, go do it and then pick their kids up — they make a little cash. People want part-time work.”
After pressing her ballot into the narrow slot, another voter said she voted “no” on Prop 22 which has generated $200 million in spending from ride share companies. Lisa Zeigel wore a black cap displaying the word GETTY, the museum where she works as a fitness trainer for employees. “It’s a job where a lot of people work full-time. Uber may be taking advantage of them. It’s not OK.”
On the sunny quiet afternoons when I stood by the voting box this week, voters were both calm and determined to do their civic duty. “I am so relieved,” said one after she cast her vote.
But a director here at Courthouse News is simply frustrated. “I don’t think it’s any more important than any other election,” she said. “I feel like I am so tired of politics because you can’t believe what anybody says. I don’t want to do it. I feel stuck, to be honest. I don’t want to vote for Biden. I especially don’t like Harris. So I have to vote for Trump even though I don’t want to.”
At one point, I left my voting box vigil to go inside City Hall and check out the scene of the crime. Up the terracotta-tiled steps and along the open corridor of white-washed arches, I saw a sign that said “city employees only” where the primary voting had taken place. Nearby a man who I took to be a security guard was reading something with his back turned.
“I think it’s all locked up,” he told me as I looked into the short hallway where so many had stood so long.
I turned and noticed a burly man with large number of stripes on his uniform. So I figured I might as well ask him about the election.
“As the police chief, there is only so much I can say,” said John Perez. The nation is facing an awful lot of problems, he said, he is hoping the election might begin to provide some answers.
He recounted sitting out in front of City Hall on a metal bench in the shade just back from the voting box. A woman approached and said she thought his uniformed presence would intimidate voters. He told her he agreed and left.
He also hoped for a decisive election, he said, one that left no doubt as to the winner. Before leaving, Perez concluded, “I think it’s the most important election in many, many decades.”
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