Election Failures Result in Voter Disenfranchisement

Image captured by Jacob Tadlock at Virginia Park Polling Center, 9:40PM on March 3, 2019.

The failure of L.A. County’s efforts to overhaul its voting system is unacceptable. The widespread chaos of election day has included reports of hours long waits, broken voting machines, and closed polling places. The result: voter disenfranchisement. 

UCLA second-year Emily Burns spent four hours in line at the Warner Avenue Elementary School polling location, where, she says, almost 20 machines malfunctioned and a group of three volunteers was tasked with signing in thousands of voters by hand. “Probably 80-90% of people I came into line with gave up and left,” she said. 

This was not how election day was supposed to unfold. L.A. County has invested $280 million over the past 10 years on the Voting Solutions for All People, or VSAP, which is responsible for the new, supposedly high-tech voting machines. These machines, along with measures allowing same-day registration, a 10-day in-person early voting period, a county-wide voter database, and expanded mail-in voting was supposed to increase voting accessibility and enfranchise more people than ever in the United State’s most populous county. 

Instead, voters were forced to wait for hours as polling sites were unable to connect to the voter database and machines failed. While some people remained in line, many people were forced to leave to attend class, work, or other commitments. “I have tried to vote 5 times already and have not been able to wait as long as needed. I want my precinct polling location back please!” tweeted UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck.

At the UCLA polling station in Ackerman Student Union, there were reports of problems with both the e-pollbooks and voting machines, with 30 of the 39 machines out of use before noon. 

Long wait times disenfranchise people unequally, with low-income voters being most vulnerable as they are the least able to afford to miss hours of work. Similarly, students who wait to vote may jeopardize their grades. “I’ve seen people come, see the line and leave. Then they come back to see the line and leave again,” said Santa Monica College student Jacob Tadlock, who waited at the Virginia Park polling station until 10 P.M. to vote. 

While technological delays have slowed or prevented voting for many, unrelated measures have disenfranchised unhoused people, one of L.A. County’s most vulnerable populations. 65 encampment sweeps were scheduled by the city of L.A. for election day, which puts unhoused people at risk of having their belongings destroyed if they leave to vote. “Often unhoused folks wait for hours until sanitation shows up. Sometimes they wait and wait and sanitation doesn’t come at all. But the fear of losing their stuff keeps them from leaving to go to doctor appts or work. Going to the polls is not an option for most,” reads a Tweet by the account “Vote Policy Not Personality.” These sweeps are an outrageous example of the routine disenfranchisement that ensures voting remains, first and foremost, an action for the privileged. 

Voting is an essential right whether or not one chooses to exercise it, and the barriers to voting in L.A. County this election day are restrictive for many. The disenfranchisement created by both carelessness and intentional harm disproportionately affect the vulnerable populations who will be most impacted by the policies of whoever is elected.

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