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Photographed by Louis White// A volunteer sits at a welcome table at the vote center in front of the L.A. City College Student Union on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. COVID-19 protocol supplies like hand sanitizer fill the table.

Vote Centers Bring New Culture to L.A. County

Last updated on January 5, 2021

By Louis White
A volunteer sits at a welcome table at the vote center in front of the L.A. City College Student Union on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. COVID-19 protocol supplies like hand sanitizer fill the table./
Voter pamphlets and other information is arranged neatly inside the L. A. City College Student Union vote center on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. The centers make voting more accessible to residents who once cast votes at neighborhood polling places./
Volunteers wear masks and shields as they check in voters on Election Day at the L.A. vote center. City College Student Union Building on Nov. 3, 2020. The center begins receiving the public at 7 a.m./
A steady stream of voters stands in a short line to enter the vote center at L.A. City College on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

(Los Angeles, Calif., Nov. 11, 2020) — By now, we have all seen some sort of public service announcement that enticed us to vote. The emphasis was on the significance of every citizen’s singular vote.

As Americans, we have perhaps taken the process for granted at times. By the time you read this, we will have all had an abject lesson on the importance of an accurate ballot count.

It all starts with where and how you vote. In Los Angeles County, the voting center replaced the old polling places for the General Election. The L.A. County centers allow voters to cast their ballots early—before Election Day.

Voters are no longer chained to their nearby musty neighborhood church storage rooms or the equipment room at the recreation center or elementary school auditorium.

Los Angeles City College hosted one of the new state-of-the-art voting centers operated by a team of energetic volunteers. The center was located inside LACC’s Student Union, which is a glass and concrete asymmetric minimalist building on the south side of campus. This modernist space was the perfect facility that provided adequate space to social distance the volunteers, as well as the voters.

The large pane glass walls and high ceilings brought in plenty of light and easily handled a steady stream of the civic-minded.

From the outside, the bright yellow hood that shrouded the touch screens of what Los Angeles County calls its “Ballot Marking Device” could be seen through the large glass. Before entering the space, volunteers greeted voters at a large mobile banquet table covered with boxes of latex gloves, bottles of hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and masks.

The volunteers made sure everyone who entered the space understood the facility’s COVID-19 protocol, which of course required all who entered to wear a mask. Inside the voting center across from the rows of the yellow Ballot Marking Devices, there were tables where volunteers sat masked, wearing face shields illuminated by the soft blue glow of the touchscreen tablet. They used the tablets to help with the collection of voting information, although the tables were still laden with the usual large ledgers that were always in sight at the old polling places of the past.

The entire operation was much smoother and streamlined than the 20th-century polling places.
The team of volunteers functioned like a well-oiled machine. It was hard to believe this diverse group of people as volunteers and not some well-managed staff from a Fortune 500 company.

Democracy wins on Election Day

There were no long lines, no snaking queues, and no frustrated voters.

I asked if they expected long lines, and the general consensus was probably not. However, they did expect the steady streams of voters to continue. Part of this was because the more than 700 L.A. County vote centers would be open.

Centers began to open on Oct. 24 in limited locations. By Oct. 30, all of the centers were open. On Election Day, centers were open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. One of the team leaders who greeted voters was Nestor Lemus. He was the assistant lead for the 2020 presidential election. His day began at 5 a.m. when he arrived on campus.

He wore a yellow, button-down polo shirt. His high-energy was infectious as he walked me through the vote center and provided a rundown on the facility.

Nestor gave me the media rules for filming and photography, which included making sure no areas of presumed privacy were violated. No photos or filming of ballots and generally steering clear of voters and volunteers.

The rest of the team of masked and shielded volunteers provided information and directed voter traffic with dispatch.

Though it looked like a science fiction movie, this was democracy being carried out in the 21st century. As I stood at the back of the room, I saw pizza boxes, stacks of bottled water, and paper plates, the evidence that some things will remain the same. The din of the room was subdued and exciting. There were no raised voices, only the occasional “please walk this way” from a volunteer directing voters to the correct station.

On my tour of the center, Lemus pointed out the security surveillance cameras. He explained that security was a serious priority.

Outside, the seriousness of exiting voters gave way to smiles for many. They brandished their “I Voted” stickers” and took group selfies. There was an American flag on a pole outside of the Student Union Building. Some voters stood proudly next to the flag for self-portraits as they held their voter stickers and sample ballot booklets. Even in the time of a pandemic, Americans, Angelenos stepped up to the plate to make their voices heard.

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