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L.A. County's early voters don't escape the lines

ELECTION 2008

It's not election day, but the wait is still five hours to cast a ballot.

November 02, 2008|Bob Pool | Pool is a Times staff writer.

Voters hoping to avoid long election day lines found themselves standing in one that lasted nearly five hours Saturday in Norwalk.

A crush of early-bird balloters swarmed the Los Angeles County registrar's office, where 100 voting booths filled a tent on the office's lawn. A similar turnout was expected today at the same site, the only one for early voting in the county.

"I knew this line would be long, and to be honest, it's a shame it's not longer. This is a very important election," said LaDwan Sherman, a reality show contestant coordinator who lives in Santa Monica.

Sherman, in her 30s, was at about the halfway point in a line that snaked around the elections office on Imperial Highway. As she inched forward, she was crocheting a colorful cover for her cellphone.

"I should have all five panels done and be stitching them together by the time I vote," she said.

Like most in the orderly and surprisingly patient crowd, Sherman wanted to avoid taking time off from work Tuesday. Many anticipate long delays at polling places because of the predicted high turnout.

"I have a job and I go to school and I probably wouldn't get to vote if I waited until election day," explained 47-year-old Bill Morgan, a building inspector from Winnetka who brought along a folding chair and an iPod.

Farther up the line, 18-year-old Candace Bailey said she was prepared to skip Saturday afternoon's USC homecoming football game to cast her first ballot.

"Tuesday I have classes that I'd rather not miss. I'm from Houston and I could have voted by absentee ballot, but I wanted to actually push that button myself," Bailey said, explaining that she registered to vote here after arriving for her freshman year of college.

Saturday's balloting drew voters from every corner of the county, and beyond. Camila Bastidas drove from Bakersfield, in Kern County.

"I just moved there for a new job and I'm still registered here," said the 23-year-old television producer. "I couldn't take off from work to come here on Tuesday."

Turning to the man standing in line behind her, Bastidas handed him a camera and asked him to snap her photo. "This is a historic election. I want a picture to make it memorable," she told Will Martinez.

"We're like neighbors. We've been standing together for so long," said Martinez, who lives in Downey and owns an Internet cafe.

Martinez, also 23, explained that he was holding a place in line for his fiancee, Nicole Allen, 21, who was sitting on the nearby lawn, intently studying a college textbook.

After about a two-hour wait, voters were ushered into a tent with 600 chairs inside -- and confronted a sign saying they had about three hours to go.

Every few minutes, elections worker Cynthia Nunn called out numbers and voters picked up their ballots, proceeding to a second tent with voting booths.

"No. 649, No. 778, No. 266," she shouted, using a somewhat baffling numerical system.

Those seated around a woman holding No. 266 cheered as she threw her arms triumphantly into the air.

Voters emerging from the voting tent said the wait had been worth it. "I voted today to make sure my vote gets counted," said Billye Porter, 69, of the Fairfax district, as she walked out carrying her folding chair and water bottle. The process had taken four hours and 55 minutes.

"In the primary they ran out of ballots and I had to cast a provisional ballot," she explained. "I don't even know if it got counted."

Marcia Ventura, a spokeswoman for the registrar's office, said about 2,000 people have voted each day since early balloting began Oct. 25. Voting will resume today from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Not everyone had to wait so long.

Some took advantage of "express voting," done by appointment.

A friend mentioned it to South Los Angeles educational assistant Dana Massey, 35. She called the registrar's office, made an appointment and passed the word to four cousins. They all rendezvoused at the registrar's office.

"We were in and out in 10 minutes," said one of the cousins, Tiffanye Coleman, 34, of Lancaster.

The registrar's office can be reached at (800) 815-2666.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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