Close to 50,000 Cast Their Ballots Early At Vote Centers Across LA County

Nearly 50,000 people cast ballots early at vote centers that opened this weekend in LA County, including the Staples Center as seen here. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Peter Su walked through the lobby of Staples Center, with more than a stirring sense of nostalgia. The NBA fan was last at the arena more than half a year ago for a Lakers-Clippers game before the pandemic forced the league into the "bubble."

But Su, a personal trainer, was back again Saturday morning for a reason he couldn't have imagined: to cast his ballot early and in-person at a voting station set up at Staples.

"I thought it the easiest and safest to actually just do that," Su said. He cited recent incidents involving ballot drop boxes including one that had been set on fire in Baldwin Park.

Su was one of the nearly 50,000 people who cast their ballots early at 118 vote centers across Los Angeles County that opened Saturday and will operate through Election Day, according to the office of the county's Registrar-Recorder. Another 649 locations come on-line Friday.

Using the registrar's office estimates, the number of ballots cast at vote centers this weekend is about five times higher than what the centers saw the first weekend they were open for the March primaries.

Turnout is higher in a presidential election year but Dean Logan, the county's registrar of voters, said he was still excited about the rate of participation, noting the county has already received nearly 1.7 million vote-by-mail ballots.

"It's an indication that voters are heeding the message to vote early," Logan said. "And I think it's an indication that we're going to have a high rate of participation in this election."

Peter Su voted early at the Staples Center, having lost confidence in drop off boxes after recent incidents. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Su, the personal trainer, had planned to mail in or drop off his ballot but recent incidents dissuaded him. A ballot drop box in Baldwin Park had been set on fire, and he was also disturbed by the drop boxes that had been labeled as official by local Republicans when they were not.

Even so, the drop boxes remain popular said Logan, who reported that 52% of the ballots had been returned via the 405 boxes set around the county.

Boosting the use of vote-by-mail ballots this year was the state's decision to send them to all registered voters due to concerns about the pandemic. In all the state mailed more than 22 million ballots. As of Friday, the Secretary of State's office reported more than 6.5 million had been returned.

Those who showed up at Staples Center to vote in-person said they felt more confident watching their ballot accepted by election workers than wondering how it was being processed.

They also got an early taste of pandemic-style voting.

A mask check. An offer of hand sanitizer. An election worker waiting to wipe down each of the 40 voting machines after its use.

Sara Garcia, a lawyer who lives downtown, usually mails in her ballot but came to vote at Staples Center because she didn't want to risk sending it in with any errors. She felt this election was too important.

Sara Garcia, a lawyer, said she wanted the comfort of seeing her ballot taken by election workers. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

She mentioned one common mistake voters make: a mismatch between the signature on the ballot and the signature from when you registered to vote.

Making sure her ballot was accepted was one last thing for her to be anxious about during this election.

"I think it feels comforting to come in person, get a little print-out and have it all done," Garcia said.

Garcia said it was also a thrill to visit Staples to vote as a Lakers fan who "bleeds purple and gold."

Staples is one of a dozen or so arenas around the country to be turned into voting centers amid Black Lives Matter protests. NBA players pressured owners to act for racial justice, and owners agreed to open up arenas they owned for voting.

The Lakers do not own Staples but worked something out with owner AEG and the county. The collaboration was visible Saturday as Staples security worked with county workers to usher voters through.

After voting, people got their choice of "I Voted" stickers with either Lakers or L.A. Kings branding. A step and repeat banner bore the logos of the Lakers, Kings and Sparks.

There was an absence of Clippers branding at the Staples. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is opening up the Forum to early voting starting Friday.

The presidential election was the main driver to the polls for voters. But one local race getting special attention is for Los Angeles County District Attorney. Garcia and Su are voting for George Gascón over incumbent Jackie Lacey, while Steven Ambers of West L.A. said he went with Lacey after consulting a relative who works in her office.

A line of voters had formed outside Staples before it opened at 10 a.m. Saturday. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

It was Ambers' first time going to a vote center and using one of the ballot marking devices rolled out by the county in time for the March primaries. There were technical glitches then and now — as Ambers found out.

After Ambers made his picks on the screen, the machine printed out a completed ballot for his review. But when he tried to reinsert the ballot, the machine wouldn't accept it.

Asked whether the county saw any technical glitches that plagued the March primaries, Logan said that the county did not see "any major issues with the equipment or the process."

But he added there's always a possibility for issues.

"So that's why it's so important to have additional devices and and ultimately even the ability for a voter just to physically put that ballot into a ballot box," Logan said.

That's what ended up happening with Ambers' ballot

"I voted like I would had I voted by mail," Ambers said.

As long as his ballot gets counted, Ambers said he didn't mind how it came about.

8:10 p.m. This story has been updated to include vote center turnout information from Dean Logan, the county's registrar of voters.

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