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Voters, not slackers

October 24, 2008|JOEL STEIN

Yes, sure, everyone should have the right to vote, in theory. But the people who register three hours before the deadline at a Wendy's in Burbank? Those people I wasn't sold on.

The combination of not caring enough at any point during this nearly two-year campaign to register, and then suddenly being desperate enough to drive to a Wendy's at nearly midnight on Monday, concerned me. I suspected that, at best, these were people who smoke a lot of pot. At worst, they thought they were voting on the fate of the Baconator. And they were voting to keep it.

Voters could register until 5 p.m. Monday at all kinds of places -- post offices, libraries and county election offices -- but Los Angeles County also set up late-night spots, which included Dodger Stadium, three Starbucks and five Wendy's. I expected to find a lonely guy at a table outside Wendy's being tormented by whatever version of teenage hooligans exist in Burbank -- perhaps four kids in hoodies furiously typing a script about a quirky voter registrar for a scathing short they'd self-finance.

But instead, there were 16 people lined up to hand an election assistant their forms, while another eight were sitting at tables filling in their information. I found out later that more than 1,000 people registered there that night, and the Wendy's manager told me the store made more than $2,000 extra. Although that was good for him, it turns out that a journalist's professionalism suffers when he's interviewing people while trying to suck a chocolate Frosty up a straw.

The first person I saw, to my shock, was someone I knew -- publicist Julia Cohen. I immediately started to make fun of her for registering at the last minute, but she told me she had registered a long time ago but feared that her forms were lost because she didn't get a voter information guide in the mail. She'd spent 25 minutes on the phone and then tried to confirm her registration on a website, but the city's computer server was overwhelmed. She even stopped by the Barack Obama campaign office for advice. Cohen wasn't a slacker. She was an anal-retentive geek.

It turned out that almost everyone I talked to at Wendy's was an incredibly responsible citizen. Jasmine Haskins, 18, said she filled out her registration card when she got her driver's license. "Everyone in our family got a little booklet but me. I was panicking. I've been watching all the debates," she said. "The lady registering people here said that the DMV botches things up." There is no honor among bureaucrats.

My attempts to pick on procrastinators quickly turned into political conversations I was not nearly informed enough to handle. No, Doug Amaturo (had to update his address), I still don't know why the L.A. Times is against Proposition 2.

When a conversation about the legality of registering another person came up, I stammered until 23-year-old stand-up comic Marly Halpern-Graser (didn't get a voter guide) intervened and explained the ACORN scandal in great detail. Halpern-Glaser then delivered the most complicated analysis of his own voting I'd ever heard, which ended with: "I'm considering voting for Obama and telling people I voted for Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party to maintain my street cred." Apparently, Halpern-Graser lives on Rainbow and Unicorn Drive.

The only real slackers were a few people who had been dragged in by their democracy-gung-ho friends. The rest of these people were just probably registering twice.

As I was about to give up, two 18-year-old women walked in -- one of whom was wearing her pajamas. These had to be the slackers I was looking for. But even Alejandra Carrillo, the pajama-ed one, had filled out voter registration forms twice in the last few months and had just forgotten to mail them, so doing this seemed pretty responsible for an 18-year-old.

However, her nonpajama-ed friend, Xenia Cadenas, seemed to be the procrastinator I was hoping for. Cardenas told me she was disappointed that she couldn't register at the drive-through, and stopped midway through filling out the form to make a call. "Dad," she asked, "are we Republican or Democratic?"

Still, even Cadenas seemed to know a lot about Obama and John McCain, though she did also offer a weird assurance that "there was a third guy running" but insisted there's no way there were more than three. "Just a third guy," she said.

But every single person I met that night, including Cadenas, seemed to be a well-informed voter. Which is important, because when most of them arrive at the polls, they'll find out they have to vote twice.

--

jstein@latimescolumnists.com

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