A Who’s Who of Studio City civic leaders came to the ballot box to vote for their volunteer representatives for the Neighborhood Council. Problem is, many of them couldn’t vote.
A complex process of requiring multiple forms of identification, and mix-ups with online voting as well as requirements to prove which vote you can vote in led to confusion for well-known Studio City residents.
Among the ones who had problems included Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents the area, former City Controller Wendy Greuel who lived in the area for a long time and recently ran for mayor, actor and activist Mike Farrell, and the president of the Studio City Residents Association Alan Dymond and his wife, Beth, from the Studio City Beautification Association.
“I don’t blame anyone but myself, but it was a very confusing process,” Greuel told Studio City Community Activism Examiner. She came to Walter Reed Middle School where he son Thomas was performing in a concert, and Stephen Box, who was running the election for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), coaxed her over to vote for the council. The election caught her off guard, but she wanted to vote.
As she had in the past, she thought she would be able to vote in many of the categories. First, she was asked for a Driver’s License and then a second form of identification, which she didn’t have. She was standing in line with MASH TV star Mike Farrell, who has served on neighborhood council committees in the past, and he had some of the same issues.
“Then, I was asked if I was a homeowner, renter, business owner and was never asked about voting in multiple categories,” Greuel said. She was given a provisional ballot for her vote. “They told me to bring a utility bill for proof.”
The next day, Greuel drove downtown to present her DWP bill, but that wasn’t good enough. So, they looked up her house records online. But, she wasn’t able to vote in other categories that she was eligible to vote in.
“There was nothing democratic about this process, it was mixed up,” Greuel said. “I’m hoping they throw out the election and start all over again.”
Forget Amal and George Clooney, if there’s ever a power-couple known for their Studio City involvement, it’s Beth and Alan Dymond. He served on the first neighborhood council in the area when the community advisory committees were formed in Los Angeles about 10 years ago to give the community more say in their city government.
It was the first time the councils could vote online, and since Beth was on her way to a funeral out of town, that seemed the way to go for them. They asked for multiple forms of documentation online, and both uploaded many of those documents. When Alan didn’t have a photo of himself, the DONE representative pulled one off his Facebook page with five other friends in the picture.
“Beth was approved to vote online, but she never got instructions on how to vote,” Alan said. “They kept telling me I needed more documentation, but they never told me what documents they still needed.”
Ultimately, the Dymonds never voted. For the first time, they were kept from voting in their community elections.
“This was not acceptable, the whole thing was a complete screw-up,” Alan said. “Beth and I were disenfranchised, we gave them everything they asked for, and it still did not work.”
Dymond even had to hand deliver a certified list of the Studio City Residents Association members because the organization doesn’t have membership cards. He wasn’t going to write a letter for each of the 2,500 households who are represented by their group, as DONE at first suggested. And, Alan is still waiting for DONE’s answer to what he needed to send in to vote.
“They never even contacted me about how I felt about the problems of the voting,” Alan said. “I certainly have a lot to say about it.”
City Councilman Paul Krekorian is very protective of his family and his address so even his Driver’s License has City Hall as an address. He was taken aback by the request for more documentation at the ballot box when he came to the school. He was hesitant to put his private documentation online, and rightfully so, because those documents ended up being distributed to people on the neighborhood council by mistake.
Krekorian filled out a provisional ballot, but it required more documentation. Jay Handal of DONE said that Krekorian’s provisional ballot was never counted, it wasn’t even opened.
My personal story is that I was trained as a poll worker at the last election and encouraged to help people figure out what ballots they are allowed to have. In Studio City, there are seven different ballots and, for example, Business Owners are only allowed to vote for business owners, renters can only vote for in the Renters category and employees can only vote in the Employee/Independent Contractors race.
The reason why I didn’t help out with the election this year is because they were going to require documentation, and I knew it would be a nightmare. At all the past elections, it was “self affirmation” and I knew our neighbors who were from church, or different local organizations, and there was never any attempt at fraud. The council voted to require documentation in order to have an online vote, too, which they elected to do because they hoped to attract more voters. (Some neighborhood council districts attracted more than 1,000 votes, and it’s still unclear how many were cast in Studio City, but it’s estimated at about 300.)
Last time, I voted in multiple categories without problem. This year, I was having trouble and tried to vote online but kept receiving more questions for documentation.
The week before Easter, on the afternoon of March 25, Stephen Box called me to try to figure out how I can vote this year. He suggested that my Studio City Community Examiner card doesn’t have an address in Studio City and asked where I do most of my work, we talked about even using a coffee shop address in Studio City as a location.
We talked about getting a letter from my pastor at First Christian Church of North Hollywood, in Studio City, but it was Easter weekend and I wasn’t going to bother her.
I specifically asked Box if the documentation I sent in was going to be shared with everyone, and he assured me not, but of course, that did somehow happen. The existing members of the council got my personal information until the board president asked that everyone delete the information immediately. I later received a free membership from DONE to a credit alert system to see if my information has been mishandled, but that should not have happened.
I couldn’t vote online, but I brought the same documentation that I submitted online to the voting place at Walter Reed.
My Studio City Community Activism Examiner card was accepted as documentation, even though it didn’t have an address. It was the same card that I was told wasn’t adequate otherwise, but it got me a ballot.
On the way out I talked to multiple people outside Walter Reed who had many problems voting. One couple didn’t even go in to try to vote, and gave up, even though they had voted in the past.
I interviewed another couple, John and Debra Van Tongeren, a husband and wife team who voted for the first time. He was denied voting in the Housing category, and she was accepted. They own their house together, and offered the same documentation to different people, but received different ballots that they could vote in.
It’s not just me that had problems or required more documentation. DONE released a list of people who required more documentation to vote online, and that included Cindy Abrams who helped form Carpenter Community Charter school, Transportation Committee chairman Barry Johnson, former council member Jane Drucker and Eric Preven, who had complained about the process and then ended up winning his race, and then getting taken off the board after a stakeholder challenge. Also, the whole family of Gail Steinberg, an incumbent board member, qualified to vote but her daughter Alexa didn’t qualify and needed more documentation.
Add to the list actor Brian Mahoney, also a former council member, who came to the voting site with his 17-year-old daughter who wanted to vote in the Youth race, and were both turned away.
On the way out of the voting booth, I talked to Eric Preven about his petition over the campaign irregularities, and also spoke to Lisa Sarkin about some of the issues. I told them both about the frustrating situation I had, and some of the other issues I heard about from other people.
I spoke to at least a dozen people who could not or gave up trying to vote, six celebrities or notable people who didn’t want their information online, and another nine people who tried online and then didn’t show up in person, and two who showed up on site and weren’t allowed to vote.
Those 29 people could have swayed many if not all of the elections. Some elections were only a few votes apart.
When I spoke to Preven, he helped convince me to think about challenging the election, and after voting I looked up the basis for challenging them.
The only way to regain the public trust in the election process and in the neighborhood council system is to re-do the entire election and allow Studio City Neighborhood Council to revise their unwieldy system of voting. This last election was a farce and should be done over.
You can blame the Studio City Neighborhood Council for their complicated process, but it’s DONE that made the mistakes in the voting process.
Imagine, as Wendy Greuel said, if a person who didn’t speak English well, or wasn’t adept at the political landscape came to vote and faced the same situation?
“They should throw out the whole deal, it was not very clear and I think a lot of people were excluded,” said Wendy Greuel. “It was confusing for me, and I’m a known person.”
Mine was one of more than half a dozen challenges to the election. My challenges were turned down because DONE pointed out that it was the complications of the Studio City by-laws that caused the problem (although it was DONE staff that were inconsistent in the documentation approval). On Monday night, my challenges were rejected, but they suggested strongly that the neighborhood council make the ballots simpler next time around four years from now.
Nevertheless, the whole point of the election is to get more people into the process of being part of their community and in the long run it just turned more people off from it. This election was tougher to vote in than it is in the presidential election. That’s not the way it should be.