Skid Row Voters Once Had Multiple Polling Centers to Choose From, Then Lost Them — and Now Need to Get Them Back
Voting has changed in LA County. The way these changes have manifested in Downtown Los Angeles has disenfranchised the predominantly Black and low-income residents of Skid Row, reversing what was once stable and accessible voting in the community. Since at least 2008, residents of Skid Row have been voting in their own neighborhood as this Reuters article explains.
Beginning in 2020 for the Primary election, Skid Row polling locations were first reduced and removed from being listed on the LA County Registrar’s website. Then, by the time the 2020 General election rolled around, the polling locations were reduced even further to just one “mobile” or “flex” location, which was also not listed anywhere official. How the Registrar determined residents of Skid Row were supposed to learn of this one location is unclear.
Now, steps need to be taken to re-enfranchise the Skid Row community. It is my hope that by shedding light on what occurred, this can happen.
Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) launched in 2020
A new system was rolled out in 2020 by the LA County Registrar’s Office called Voting Solutions for All People or VSAP. This system was first utilized for the Primary election. After submitting two Public Records Requests and some amateur sleuthing, Doug Ecks, Esq. and I teamed up to write about why the lines were so long. Doug and I were introduced because of our shared interest in election integrity — myself with the 2017 Skid Row Neighborhood Council “Subdivision” election and Doug, a follower of @jennycohn on twitter and who heard about the County’s plan to switch to electronic voting from Dean Logan himself when volunteering as an election monitor in 2018 and voiced his concerns right there and then. We got to know each other during the lead-up to the 2020 Primaries. We both thought that there would be problems with the roll out of VSAP due to the “electronic” component. Turns out, we were right. But the problems we documented only explain what happened with checking people in to vote (which were subsequently smoothed out for the General) — and did not get into the locations of the polls and/or elimination of longstanding locations — something that I had been tracking in Skid Row concurrently. I noticed the elimination of polling locations in Skid Row because I had been voting at them for several years prior, and then suddenly, they were gone. I would later learn from documents obtained from the Register’s Office, that others had similar concerns.
I attempted to get documents myself from the Registrar’s Office, once again utilizing the California Public Records Act, which I had hoped would clarify for me how new vote centers had been chosen Downtown and why longstanding polling locations were eliminated. While I did receive some documents, I was frustrated in the gaps in information, so I asked Doug for his professional assistance. He was able to procure many more documents on my behalf, even going to the extent of filing a writ of mandamus, so that I was able to fit more pieces of the puzzle together.
(4) day or (11) day vote centers vs. flex/mobile pop-ups
Under the new VSAP system, LAC voters can vote at any of the polling locations, now called “vote centers”, as opposed to just the one close to where they live. These new “official” vote centers are open for (4) or (11) days each and are publicized on the Registrar’s website and in pamphlets sent out to registered voters. VSAP also includes “mobile” or “flex” voting locations which “pop-up” for fewer days, sometimes for only one day — of which there were thousands for the General. But, after sifting through mountains of documents I requested on the subject — it appears the way in which all these locations were chosen and whether they were to be (4) day, (11) day or “flex” is still unclear. Because the mobile/flex voting locations are not listed on the Registrar’s website or in the mailed pamphlets under “vote center locations”, there is no way for the Public to learn about them — which includes knowing how many days or hours each mobile/flex location is popped-up for.
Getting back to what happened in Skid Row…here is a map I made which shows the locations the Registrar’s Office chose to place official vote centers Downtown for the 2020 General. The locations were copied from the pamphlet sent to my residence (below).
As the map shows, the Registrar’s Office placed no official vote centers (4 or 11 day) in Skid Row. The drop-down menu on the Registrar’s website listed these same locations too — and only these locations.
Flex voting pop-ups are unlisted anywhere the Public might find them
By chance, a friend of mine emailed me a flier a couple of days before the General that promoted local nonprofit Los Angeles Community Action Network as a “mobile” voting location (I was not previously aware of this fact). Since I had already seen the official vote center locations for Downtown which listed no Skid Row locations, I was pleased to see this! At the same time, I began to wonder why this was not being publicized officially through the Registrar’s Office. Also, I wondered if there were other flex locations in the community — and how anyone was supposed to find them? Say for example, you are staying in a shelter with no computer access. Say you are disabled and have a hard time walking even two or three blocks. This describes hundreds if not thousands of Skid Row residents. Voting used to be inside the area shelters — now, this shelter resident needs to walk seven or eight blocks to vote and there is no discernible way they would be able to know about a flex pop-up three blocks away. The below email exchange confirms Registrar/Recorder Dean Logan was aware that “walking distance” to a poll location was important for Skid Row residents.
I was able to confirm that Skid Row got two (4) day vote center locations for the Primary — one at the Union Rescue Mission and the other at the Los Angeles Mission/Ann Douglas Center for Women as well as a (1) day mobile/flex location at the Downtown Women’s Center. None of these voting locations were posted anywhere official as far as I know and the only reason I know about them at all is through documents provided to me by the Registrar’s Office via Doug.
Skid Row got screwed
If we go by population density, the placement of voting centers in Downtown Los Angeles on my map above makes no sense. For example, Little Tokyo got (2) and the Arts District got (1), when collectively they do not have the number of residents that Skid Row has, which hovers between 10–15 thousand (including unhoused residents). Then, when you take into consideration the percentage of people in Skid Row living with disabilities, these voting locations look less and less sensible and more and more like Voter Disenfranchisement and Voter Suppression.
All things considered, Skid Row needs at least one (11) day vote center
Skid Row needs at least one (11) day vote center moving forward, just like the neighborhood had official, fixed and stable polling locations here for at least the past 12 years (as reports confirm). Certain Election Laws allow for some assistance for people with disabilities in voting. If anything, Skid Row needs the maximum amount of assistance and days for people to vote, given it’s demographics and not the diminishment of polling centers. The voting locations need to be listed and printed, “officially” — making it easier, not more difficult for people to find where to vote in Skid Row. VSAP (4) and (11) day vote centers do have parking requirements, but a close read of the Union Rescue Mission contract with the Registrar’s Office indicates these requirements were waived for the Primary — therefore, they can be waived again.
Voter Suppression in Skid Row is racist
On April 20, 2020, Federal Judge David O. Carter, currently presiding over the LA Alliance case, issued a scathing 110-page Injunction against the City and County of Los Angles in which he details how 100 years of racist housing policy has shaped the modern-day demographics of Skid Row. Judge Carter is requesting the City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee report back to him about how they will implement specific actions to address structural racism. Voter Suppression against Black people has been at the heart of our Country’s racist history as well as its present. Maybe the City’s Homeless and Poverty Committee should also be looking into how to make sure there are official, publicized, (11) day vote centers in Skid Row moving forward.
Past polling locations (pre-2020) in Skid Row include:
· The Downtown Women’s Center
· The Los Angeles Mission/Ann Douglas Center for Women
· Centenary Church
· The Midnight Mission
· The Union Rescue Mission