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The Feverish Story Of A Last-Second Primary Voter

A hand holding a ballot is pushing through finish-line tape as cartoon alarm clocks bounce around in the background.
One voter's Herculean effort to cast her ballot on time.
(Alborz Kamalizad
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Parking was tough to find on Sweetzer Avenue from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. It was a battle for blacktop real estate between two factions of late-comers — those headed for packed-out Drag Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s, and packet-packing voters hustling to cast their ballots by the skin of their teeth.

Many in the latter group made it — barely.

They were among the minority, however, both in terms of tardiness and actually showing up at all. As my colleague Mariana Dale reports, turnout was notably low. Just 17% of registered L.A. County voters returned their mail-in ballots at last count. Those who didn't cast ballots told us increased demands on their time are a major barrier to voting, even as California has significantly increase access with mail-in ballots and early voting options.

In those final 30 minutes of the 2022 California Primary Election, at least four dozen cars looped through the tight, 30-yard parking lot loop outside of West Hollywood City Hall, resembling a valet line run by cheetahs.

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And as the seconds ticked down to 8 o’clock, the moment the ballot box would turn lock box, Annie Varni was battling her second major deadline of the evening.

“I'm a TV producer. I know what it's like to race the clock and watch the time tick before it's showtime,” Varnie said. "I just raced from editing an episode so I could get that out in time to make TV, and then I literally ran here.”

Hunched over, she folded, flattened, and crammed, looking like Hiromi Ashlin (the Guinness World Record holder for origami folding speed). She licked the seal and fired into the hole — becoming that location’s very last voter.

Several cars sit on a street behind a orange, white, and blue election ballot box. An arrow and text bubble points to a vehicle. The text reads "Annie Varni, hand cramping, filling out ballot"
Annie Varni, quite possibly the fastest person with a ballpoint pen in all of West Hollywood.
(Photo by Sam Benson Smith, Illustration by Alborz Kamalizad

“I'm a procrastinator,” Varni said. “I've learned in life that procrastinators are the most successful because it means that we really are detail-oriented up until the last minute. And that's me — because I want to read every detail and look at every fine print to make an educated decision.”

The L.A. County poll workers barked at all voters within earshot for a full three minutes before the deadline.

And then the clock hit 8:01. “Polls are closed, sir. 8 o’clock! 8 o’clock’s the last call.”

By 8:03, Varni was out front, standing in front of her double-parked car, saying it would have been well-worth the parking ticket. She may have procrastinated, but she managed, thanks to a new friend.

A brown SUV sits idling on the street in front of an orange and blue ballot box. A text bubble reads "missed it by that much" and points to the SUV.
A would-be voter who arrived at 8:01 p.m
(Photo by Sam Benson Smith, Illustration by Alborz Kamalizad
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“This sweet security guy runs up to me and tells me they're gonna close the ballot [box] if I don't put it in right now. And thank God for him because I wouldn't have made it,” Varni said. “So thank you mister security guard of West Hollywood public office security team for helping me make it in time.”

At 8:05, a black SUV pulls up.

“To not have your vote count even seconds too late is such a disheartening feeling because I know a lot of people put a lot of time and energy into getting here,” Varni then calls out to the driver of the SUV, her friend Joe. “I have frickin’ Joe coming up here trying to vote, but he's too late…I was the last voter.”

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