Friday, May 29

Westwood Neighborhood Council contests removal of vote-by-mail option

Westwood residents, including students, might only be able to vote during the 2016 Westwood Neighborhood Council elections in person by going to the polls instead of filling a vote-by-mail ballot or going online. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Westwood residents might only be able to vote for neighborhood council board members in 2016 by going to the polls, rather than voting by mail or online.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment decided to remove the vote-by-mail option for all neighborhood council elections throughout Los Angeles because data revealed only a small percentage of votes came by mail, said Stephen Box, director of outreach and communications of DONE.

Box said only about 4 percent of the total votes for all neighborhood council elections throughout Los Angeles came by mail in the 2014 election. He added only 23 of 94 neighborhood councils offered vote-by-mail ballots in 2012, 17 offered it in 2014 and eight, including Westwood, expressed an interest in offering mail voting in 2016.

“With diminishing interest and support for voting by mail, the numbers show it doesn’t make sense to pursue it,” Box said.

Westwood, which has the third-highest voter turnout in the city, received more than a third of its votes by mail in the 2014 election, in which about 660 people voted. The council unanimously decided in its September meeting to request the re-implementation of vote by mail.

DONE proposed online voting as an alternative to voting by mail, estimating the option would triple voter turnout and cut the cost per vote by half. While 35 of the 96 neighborhood councils citywide approved online voting in 2016, the Westwood Neighborhood Council voted 9-5 against online voting for its upcoming election during its September meeting.

Jerry Brown, president of the council, opposes online voting because it is not an option for any other elected position.

“The neighborhood council elections are being unfairly used on an experimental basis,” he said. “It ought to be implemented on a citywide, statewide or nationwide basis before it is applied to neighborhood council elections.”

Lisa Chapman, vice president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said most board members opposed DONE’s removal of the vote-by-mail option because they think the change disenfranchised a large group of the community.

“Senior citizens who are not computer savvy will no longer have the option to fill out a piece of paper and send it in to vote,” said Chapman. “That automatically eliminates that group of voters.”

Chapman later voted in favor of the online voting option after a representative from DONE explained the system’s fraud-preventative measures, such as counting IP addresses to limit the number of votes cast from one computer.

Unlike Chapman, Brown said he still has security concerns.

“I’m not convinced DONE will be able to prevent fraud and multiple votes from the same computer,” he said.

Board member Marcello Robinson, who voted in favor of online voting, said he thinks some board members opposed it out of fear of opening up elections to more people.

“If you open up the process to more people, there is less control of who is elected to the board, and you have to work harder to retain your seats,” he said. “But if we have more people participating, that makes us stronger advocates of the community. I think we need to step into the future.”

The council submitted a community impact statement last week to Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wessen and Board of Neighborhood Commissioners President Michele Siqueiros, requesting the vote-by-mail option be reinstated in Westwood. The letter points out a large portion of the council’s votes come by mail and asks DONE to allow voting by mail to neighborhood councils that expressed interest.

Box, who attended the September council meeting, said the vote-by-mail option would return for Westwood Neighborhood Council elections if the council votes for it and agrees to pay the city clerk $5,000 to send out the votes by mail.

Board member Roozbeh Farahanipour said the council paid $500 for votes by mail before the option was eliminated, so he thinks the $5,000 figure is unreasonable. Brown agreed the estimated $5,000 cost is unjustified.

Box said DONE and the city clerk previously shared the cost of sending out mail ballots, but the budget for voting by mail was cut after the department removed the option.

The council will review DONE’s offer and make a decision during its October meeting.

News reporter

Sierra deSousa is currently a news reporter covering Westwood, transportation and Los Angeles. She has also covered the University of California.

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