Putting the Long Voting Lines in Context

Putting the Long Voting Lines in Context

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Credit…September Dawn Bottoms for The New York Times

Good morning.

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Yes, officials are still counting California ballots.

And no, we still don’t have final results for any of the elections — although as my colleagues reported, Senator Bernie Sanders’s big bet on California appears to have paid off.

Still, one thing I woke up thinking about on Wednesday morning was the thousands of voters — around the state, but mostly in Los Angeles County — who were greeted by hourslong lines when they showed up to participate in their democracy.

[Read more about how young people and Latinos showed up for Mr. Sanders.]

I called Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, to get some context.

Mr. Hasen, who specializes in election law, said that, going into the election cycle, he had been concerned about the number of changes Los Angeles County officials were making simultaneously as part of a $300 million overhaul.

They moved from neighborhood polling places to a vote-center model, allowing voters to cast ballots anywhere in the county.

At the same time, they got new voting machines and switched to an electronic check-in system, which voters and officials have said appeared to be the source of bottlenecks. And voters were allowed for the first time to register at any polling place instead of at the county office.

[Read about why lines to vote were so long in Texas, too.]

On top of that, Mr. Hasen noted, many voters may have decided to wait until Election Day to make their Democratic presidential pick because of the volatility in the race.

“Just like you wouldn’t premiere your brand-new play straight to Broadway, it would have been better to roll these things out in a less popular and contested election,” he said.

Mr. Hasen emphasized that he believed election officials in L.A. County in particular hoped to make the voting experience easier. But hourslong waits aren’t good.

(He noted that a bipartisan commission under President Barack Obama found that voters should have to wait no more than 30 minutes.)

“I saw no evidence there was any intention to disenfranchise anyone,” Mr. Hasen said, “but people having to wait three, four, five hours to vote is a severe burden.”

He said that the Sanders campaign’s effort on Tuesday to get a court order to keep polls open longer is not uncommon, even if it’s already legally mandated that anyone who’s in line by the time polls close can vote.

“We saw this in Tennessee, where they had the problems with the tornadoes, that they ordered additional time for people to vote,” he said. “I think it’s a prudent thing for campaigns to do.”

As for the argument that L.A. voters had more than a week to vote early and about a month to send mail-in ballots?

“If you tell people they can vote on Election Day, they should be able to vote without an issue,” Mr. Hasen said. “If you’re going to have polling places open they need to be reasonably accessible.”

[See election results here.]

Heather Collette-VanDeraa, 47, wrote in an email that she was excited to vote in her first California Democratic primary, in part because she finally felt her vote could make a difference in the nomination.

She said she had the opportunity to vote closer to her work in Los Angeles’s Koreatown during her lunch break. The closest vote center had a more than three-hour wait, so she and co-workers took an Uber to an elementary school not far away.

Ultimately, Ms. Collette-VanDeraa said the experience was worthwhile — even affirming. But she said she hoped that officials “recognize that more people will vote near their jobs, especially workers who cannot afford to take time off.”

Mr. Hasen said he expected there will be a thorough investigation into what happened on Tuesday to ensure it’s a learning experience for November — not a preview.

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office didn’t return multiple calls and emails for comment on Tuesday night and on Wednesday, but according to The Associated Press, Dean Logan, the office’s head, apologized for the problems.

And The Los Angeles Times reported that county supervisors were demanding answers.


The coronavirus outbreak reached new, grim milestones in California on Wednesday, as Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency after the state’s first reported death from the virus in Placer County.

The patient who died was older and had underlying health conditions. The person was one of at least two people who tested positive for the virus on a cruise ship, which is set to return to San Francisco today.

Also on Wednesday, Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency after officials there announced six new cases, all of which were traced to known exposure sources.

Leaders, including Mr. Newsom, emphasized that the emergency declarations were meant to allow officials to access more resources to slow the illness’s spread.

It also allows the state to take steps to prevent price gouging on things like hand sanitizer.

Read the full story here.

And read more coverage:

  • Some people who have been associated with the virus, even remotely, described being treated like pariahs upon returning home. One said he understood how cyberbullied teenagers feel. [The New York Times]

  • What about people who have tested positive? Six patients talked about the expected and unexpected aspects of their experiences: “We kind of have developed a brotherhood.” [The New York Times]

  • Across the state, workers are preparing for the census. The Census Bureau wasn’t counting on the coronavirus. [CityLab]

  • “Contagion,” a 2011 Steven Soderbergh thriller, was listed as No. 270 in the Warner Bros. catalog of titles at the end of December. Now, it’s one of its hottest movies. [The New York Times]


We often link to sites that limit access for nonsubscribers. We appreciate your reading Times coverage, but we also encourage you to support local news if you can.

  • An appeals court granted the Trump administration’s request to keep “Remain in Mexico” restrictions in effect for now. [The New York Times]

  • The trial of Robert Durst, subject of the chilling HBO series “The Jinx,” started this week in Los Angeles. He’s accused of killing a dear friend. Read a timeline of a long case. [The New York Times]

  • The man accused of being the Golden State Killer, who is facing a possible death sentence, offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. [The New York Times]

  • It’s still unclear if Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles’s incumbent district attorney, will avoid a November runoff against one of her progressive challengers. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • Voters in the Bay Area have rejected two tax measures that would have helped pay to extend transit into the outer reaches of the suburbs, dealing a devastating blow to the North Bay’s SMART Train, and raising questions about the future. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • Apropos of nothing, here are the best movies and TV shows coming to streaming services this month. [The New York Times]


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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