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Neighborhood polling places likely to disappear by 2020

INGLEWOOD — Lance Bailey loves the fact that his neighborhood polling place is only a few blocks away.

“Often times I’ll just walk because I believe in being a responsible citizen,” said Bailey, who has lived and voted in Inglewood for more than 25 years.

Nevertheless, changes are coming for Bailey and every other voter in Los Angeles County.

That’s why Bailey was one of the dozens of people who gathered Dec. 11 at Inglewood City Hall to learn how voting will change in 2020 and make suggestions where vote centers should be placed in his neighborhood.

In March 2020, vote centers, which are centralized facilities where any eligible voter in Los Angeles County can cast a ballot, will replace traditional, neighborhood polling precincts.

However, there may be some overlap in previous polling locations because public buildings, such as city halls, libraries, schools, community centers, as well as churches are being considered for potential locations.

Vote centers, which will feature new, electronic, computerized ballot marking devices instead of traditional voting booths, may also be located at shopping malls and in Starbucks and other chain restaurants.

Other non-traditional locales under consideration include transit centers, arts and cultural spaces like public parks and major entertainment destinations.

The 1,000 new vote centers across L.A. County are courtesy of the California Voter’s Choice Act of 2016.

Right now, county leaders are considering as many as 15 potential vote center locations in Inglewood alone.

Vote centers will be open for up to 11 days including Election Day. They will replace 5,000 polling locations countywide that are only open on Election Day.

“What I really learned is the value of working with the public and getting their input,” said Kiyana Asemanfar, who led the vote center meeting in Inglewood and serves as the policy outreach coordinator for California Common Cause, which is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization.

Meanwhile, same-day registration will also be available at every vote center.

The Voter’s Choice Act will also make vote-by-mail drop box locations available for 29 days prior to Election Day.

Mobile and pop-up vote centers, which have been popular suggestions at community meetings are also in the works.  

“We work a lot to make sure that voting is accessible and convenient for voters,” Asemanfar added as she prepared to host her sixth grassroots community meeting on vote centers in as many weeks.

“I want them to be convenient,” echoed Inglewood City Clerk Yvonne Horton.

In November’s election, Inglewood’s voter turnout was 51 percent.

Horton is encouraged vote centers will help create an environment for voter turnout in Inglewood to remain at historic levels.

“I want them to have enough voting centers where there won’t be any problems for people to go and vote. I want accessibility,” Horton said.

“Right now, a poll worker works one day… this will allow them to work more than one day because [the centers are] going to be open more. It will give them the opportunity to have a little extra income because quite a few of the people are retired,” Horton said. “Plus, they take pride in it.”

Making sure 1,000 vote centers are strategically located in L.A. County is paramount. That’s why project leaders are considering demographic factors like population density, ethnicity, low-income populations and employment centers to determine if a potential vote center location is viable.

“The key is having as many voting centers as possible, so that people don’t have to go a far distance to either drop off or vote,” Horton added.

County leaders are still open to suggestions from the public. Advocates want to make sure final vote center locations are accessible to people with disabilities, close to public transit and have enough parking so voters don’t feel discouraged about being able to get in and out of the vote center in a timely manner.

A second round of community meetings, with updates on final vote center locations will be held next summer.  

Additionally, county leaders are looking to hold mock elections for voters to familiarize themselves with vote centers and electronic ballots.

“It’s a big change and to see people this engaged about something that’s going to take place over a year a way, to see this number of people involved with the process has really stuck with me,” Asemanfar said.

“That’s a right for us, I take that seriously. You know what (African Americans) went through to be able to vote and I take that serious,” Bailey said.

By John W. Davis

Contributing Writer