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Election Officials Make Plans to Assist Voters

Maps, signs and additional staff are part of the effort to prevent confusion at the polls.

September 10, 2003|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

To avoid chaos and confusion at the polls on Oct. 7, Los Angeles County's top election official said Tuesday she is counting on signs, maps and better staffing at polling booths to guide voters through a smooth election day.

Because preparations for the election to recall Gov. Gray Davis have been extraordinarily rushed, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack consolidated about 4,900 regular precincts into just 1,786 for the recall. To compensate for the loss of polling places, McCormack beefed up the numbers of poll workers and voting booths planned for each precinct to accommodate what is expected to be a high turnout.

"We're actually in very good shape right now," McCormack said Tuesday at the weekly Board of Supervisors meeting. "People want to work [at the polls] this election. It's an exciting election, so we're not having the cancellations we normally get."

If McCormack had one bit of advice for the county's 4 million voters, it would be this: Read your sample ballot.

There, on the front cover, voters will find a red and blue "VOTER ALERT!!!" message, warning people that their polling location may have changed. Flip to the back cover, and voters will see the address of their latest polling place.

The county is also mailing colorful signs and maps to the more than 3,000 polling places that aren't being used this election, asking recipients to post the materials on election day so that wayward voters will be redirected to the proper locations.

All of which left Ron Howard, a retired truck driver from Bellflower who says he "never misses an election," still wondering where he ought to vote. Howard read his sample ballot, but found his new polling place listed by only its name and street address -- with no city or ZIP Code.

"I live a stone's throw from Downey, Norwalk, Lakewood and Compton, so it could be in any of those cities," Howard said. "I called the registrar to figure it out, but a lot of people are going to say, 'Where the heck is this?' and that's going to be the end of it. They're just going to toss it out and not even bother."

Many counties are consolidating polling places because the special election was called on relatively short notice. That process has stirred concern across California, even prompting a lawsuit in Monterey County. Last week, a federal court allowed voting to proceed after Monterey County agreed to changes designed to protect the rights of minority voters.

Other election officials expressed confidence this week that the election would unfold without a hitch. In Orange County, Registrar Steve Rodermund said he would not put up signage indicating that polling places had changed, a decision echoed in Riverside County.

"Polling places change in every election," said Mischelle Townsend, Riverside's registrar. "You're always going to get people who are confused, but the vast majority of people know to read the sample ballot, or they call us to get their polling places."

In Los Angeles County, there are already indications of a big turnout, which could mean more crowding than usual at the polls. The number of voters requesting absentee ballots has been much higher than expected, McCormack said.

Over the last two days, more than 45,000 voters requested absentee ballots -- a number more typical of a presidential race than a gubernatorial election. To help handle the turnout, Los Angeles officials are urging people to vote early, beginning Sept. 24, at one of the 12 locations that offer touch-screen voting. Those locations are also listed inside the sample ballots. (And don't worry if you haven't received your sample ballot; many of them have not yet been mailed.) San Diego and Orange counties also reported a surge of early voter interest. Several hundred people have already trooped into registrar's offices there to fill out and submit absentee ballots in person, which is allowed now.

"It's been more than we get even in a presidential election," said San Diego County Registrar Sally McPherson, who had 247 people come in to vote Monday and about the same number Tuesday. "We had people waiting at the door before 8 o'clock."


Times staff writer Allison Hoffman contributed to this report.

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