Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Observations of a First-Time Pollworker

Several years ago, the County of Los Angeles decided to boost the number of people willing to volunteer as pollworkers by 1) letting County employees who are also registered California voters (regardless of where they are registered) serve as pollworkers in Los Angeles without taking personal time from their jobs, and 2) promoting said program. I was at Public Works when that began, and promoting and tracking Public Works employee participation of this program was assigned to me. I had that as one of my responsibilities until I took a promotion to come to Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures, but I'd never served as a pollworker.

I've been a registered voter in Orange County for quite some time, and have been a permanent vote-by-mail voter for a couple of years now, so my experience with voting at the polls in Los Angeles is a distant and outdated memory.

This time around, my boss encouraged me to volunteer, and I did. I attended a two-hour training session on a day off (pollworkers get some compensation for attending training), and I served all day at a polling place within Los Angeles County yesterday.

It's a long day. We were told to arrive by 6 a.m. to set up, as the polls opened at 7 a.m. I was slightly early, but so were others, so we were able to begin setting up. I was given a 1-hour lunch break, but I decided to return after 30 minutes away. The polls closed at 8 p.m. and then after taking everything down and doing the ballot organization procedures, I was released a little after 9 p.m. There were a few voters who thanked us for volunteering, and that was a nice touch.

We were a "Neighborhood Voting Center", meaning we had three precinct polling places in one room. All three had their own check-in tables, ballots, polling tables/stands, and ballot box. Fortunately, I was teamed with three women who were longtime veterans of pollworking and lived in the local neighborhood.

I was mostly dealing with the address list, which had the names and addresses and party affiliation of each voter registered in that precinct, listed by address. It was my job to keep copies of the list updated with who had voted, and keep a copy tacked to the wall for anyone to check. I also, at times, handled the alphabetical list where people were asked to sign their signature, and a bit of handing out ballots, and answered a lot of questions. Every vote – absentee, vote by mail, provisional, whatever - in Los Angeles County gets counted, even if the races are decided because there aren't enough ballots left to make a difference in the outcome.

Los Angeles County uses an inking system. The ballots are sent through a machine before they are dropped into the box to 1) count the number of ballots and 2) check for "overvotes" and other errors on each ballot – according to the election officials, the machines DO NOT count actual votes, as in tallying how many people are voting "YES" vs."NO". Someone who has overvoted or had some other error who doesn't want to fill out another ballot is allowed to deposit their ballot anyway – the pollworker simply overrides the machine, and ballots such as the provisionals can be slipped in the box without going through the machine.

Here are some observations:

1. If the votes really aren't being tallied by the machines, then most votes are not even arriving to where they ARE tallied until 9:30 p.m. or later, and THEN they have to be removed from the sealed containers and tallied. So when outcomes are announced at 8 p.m. or even 10 p.m., those announcements are based almost entirely on previous polling and exit polling. Some early voting might be part of that, but how many people really go vote early using one of the electronic machines? Our ballots were not sent in throughout the day. All of them were turned in together at 9:30 p.m. or later. That is standard.

2. I.D. is almost never required. Anyone can come in and claim to be one of the people on our list and vote. Yes, they'd be breaking the law, but how will anyone know?

3. I was told by more than one person that two of the people on the list were really one person – themselves. For example, Jim Smith at 123 Main Street and James Q. Smith at 123 Main Street. Jim could have easily brought along someone else and claimed that James was his son. Or, Jim could have come back later and voted as James.

4.Voters also told me that there were people on the list at their address who have moved away or never lived at their address in the first place. Those people, or someone pretending to be them, could have come in and voted.

5. Given observations 2-4, why is it standard to post the updated name and address list? I know it aids those who want to check to see who has not voted yet and call people to get out the vote, but why should election officials care about helping partisans in that way? Seems to me that fraud prevention would be more important. Wouldn't it?

6. There was at least one instance where I’m almost positive someone committed voter fraud. A distinctively dressed young man came in to vote, and noted his sister listed just after his name, and asked if she would be able to vote, given that she was in another city that day – a city that was sufficiently far away that it would take hours for her to come back. I explained what her voting options had been. I thought maybe she was a student attending college in this other city, or something like that. No, she was only there for a week. The young man voted, and maybe an hour later, he returned with his “sister”, who voted as his sister. I wasn't the only pollworker at our precinct who noticed this. If there was a way we were allowed to challenge this, we were unaware.

7. Despite this, and the long hours, overall, I enjoyed the experience. But then I'm the kind of guy who was happy to see people voting, even if I could tell from their party affiliation that they were likely voting in opposition to the votes I’d made. I believe in having a democratic republic, which means that people who disagree with me have just as much right to vote and just as much of a vote as I do.

8. Single people who want to get married and are politically active should consider volunteering as pollworkers. Why? They can ask to be placed in their own neighborhoods and they might meet someone who lives close to them who they don't bump into during their daily routines. They'll already know the person votes, and they can see their party affiliation (if that is important). Or, ask to be placed in a more upscale neighborhood, where sometimes it is hard to find enough pollworkers. You just might marry up!

It was a tiring day, and a disruption of my weekly routines. But unless the way we vote is radically changed, volunteers are needed, and I'm glad I was able to do my part to continue our democratic republic.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Memoriam


I noticed that the booklet for her memorial service listed the date of her death, and her birthday, but not the year of her birth. That was so Aunt Vicky. Very few people knew exactly how old she was, and that was the way she liked it. She even argued with paramedics who came to her home, not wanting to reveal her age. There are sources, including some “official” sources that got the year of her birth wrong.

Having a ceremony for the recently deceased is a unique rite in that the celebrated isn’t alive, and none of those who are present have had one of these rites in their honor; none of them have died. But every single one of of them will - barring anything of Biblical proportions happening. The same can’t be said of retirement parties, weddings, graduations, birthdays, or any other religious ceremony.

Aunt Vicky hated to be thought of as a grandmother. She was “Aunt” Vicky to quite a number of people of a wide range in ages. However, she did marry a grandfather, and thus became a grandmother. And even before that, she was like a grandmother to various kids, including me and my siblings. Heck, one of my sisters was named after her.

She was supposed to die two years ago.

That’s what the doctors said. She was in the hospital and it wasn’t looking good. They wanted to do a tracheotomy. It was time for the Last Rites.

But she made it out of the hospital. Without a hole in her neck.

And then there were other times it looked like the end would come any day. But she always managed to recover enough to make it clear she could be around for a lot longer. It was quite remarkable, and we joked that she would outlive us all. Unfortunately, recovering somewhat also allowed her to do things like fall down – something that can’t happen when you’re in bed, not moving.

And so the sharp downs and gentle ups that never quite got her back to where she was before the downturn finally came to an end on June 8.

Until that end, she kept up her appearance. That was the way she was.

On Friday, July 23, there was a church service for her that brought together family and friends. I was honored to be one of three “family” members who people who spoke about her. Her brother spoke, and another “nephew” from my generation spoke.

Afterwards, we gathered for a luncheon in her honor at the California Institute of Technology.

Aunt Vicky was one of those women who could tell a quite a story,and carry on a conversation about almost anything. She could make her opinions about everything very clear – from the state of the economy, to food at a restaurant, to how that other person was driving, to your weight and how it was going to kill you, to what you were wearing. She also wouldn’t discourage you from erroneously assuming she was a member of your ethnic group. She might even encourage that belief by drawing upon some of her vast knowledge of different customs.

She was one of those women who shattered glass ceilings, opening the way for women to follow. She did that at General Motors until she was recruited to come to NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, where she served on a committee that sought to reach out and recruit women and minorities.

When I came along, she was joined at the hip to my mother’s uncle. That’s how she became my Aunt, even though they didn’t make it official for many years. They would come to family dinners at our house, and have us over to their separate homes.

Aunt Vicky would even have me and my second cousin/best-friend/partner-in-mischief/younger-by-mere-weeks Shannon spend nights at her place and leave a pile of dirt in her bathtub after a day of playing. We couldn’t have been more than nine or ten when she had us dress up with jackets and ties and she took us to some fine dining lunch at what was then the Huntington Hotel. She wanted to show us how to do this as proper gentlemen, so she had us be the ones to approach the maitre d’. She ordered a hamburger and ate it with a knife and fork, though she didn’t allow us to order burgers.

A picture she took of us on that day is one my most treasured possessions, as Shannon was tragically killed not long after that, along with his maternal grandfather and only maternal uncle, when their small plane crashed in the Canadian wilderness.

With the passing of Aunt Vicky, all of my grandparents, both actual and honorary, are gone. It is the end of an era in my life. I miss them all. And I miss Aunt Vicky’s rice pilaf.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Was Quoted About Insect Traps

Stephanie Walton of the Daily Breeze consistently gets things quickly, and gets them right - at least, whenever I've talked with her seen her print something with which I have been involved. She writes answers to "Ask Us" submissions made by the paper's readers. I used to get calls from Ms. Walton when I was at Public Works, and I get them from her now, too.

This time, the question was about possible insect traps someone was seeing around Torrance. One kind of trap spotted sound like ones used for trapping Asian Citrus Psyllid.

That pest now has been found in dozens of cities in the county, said Ken Pellman, public information officer for the county's Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights & Measures. The disease the species can transmit, Huanglongbing (HLB), which kills citrus trees, has not been detected in trapped specimens in the state, Pellman said.
I try to let people know what they can do, especially when an ounce of prevention is better than many pounds of cure. The Daily Breeze coverage area rangs from LAX to the ports, which means the area that will often get hit first with an infestation.

"We really need the help of your readers in preventing infestations of destructive exotic pests," Pellman said.

"Fruits, vegetables and other plant materials that come from outside of California may bring with them pests - such as insects, diseases and weeds - that don't belong in California. Those things are problems because they kill or harm native species, damage buildings, destroy landscaping and home-grown fruits and vegetables, and add extra costs to California's agriculture industry - costs that will get passed along to consumers."
Don't bug California!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It’s Alive and Oozing From the Vault

The legends are true. Footage exists of some of the first projects of award-winning international independent experimental filmmakers Francisco Matamala and Ken Pellman.

Back in the tumultuous, war-torn days of the later mid 1980s, living along the tough streets of South Pasadena, California (the “free love” capital of the world) were two demented junior high school kids looking for a way out so they would no longer be constantly chased from Huntington Drive to the Rialto to Garfield Park by their hundreds of crazed (but hot) groupies. Pellman, the American-born aquatician, and Francisco Matamala, the Chilean-born genius, joined forces to take stop-motion animation to the next level.

Unfortunately, all they unleashed on the world was an film-based expression of something they called “Goremation”, which is certainly not to be confused with “Claymation” or a Presidential bid or climate change documentary.

Together, they wrote, produced, and directed the astonishingly well-titled silent motion picture “Laserfight”, a film about a treasure-seeking space traveler on a strange, hostile world full of peril: a rival, rough terrain, and a hyperactive food chain system where every single living organism apparently must constantly be moving and eating.





Amazingly, Matamala and Pellman did all of the lighting, choreography, cinematography, character design, animation, and special effects themselves.

Encouraged by loud audience reactions and awards, Matamala and Pellman both agreed to make a sequel. Oddly enough, it was titled “Laserfight II” The extreme demands of making the more advanced sequel required a third creative force: Todd Yamanaka. Together, the three wrote, produced, directed the grueling project, again taking on the lighting, choreography, cinematography, character design, animation, and special effects.

Now, after years of anticipation and public demand and intense negotiations with major Hollywood studios, both projects are being released for the first time on home video DVD.

Well, sort of. Much to the disappointment of Matamala, Pellman, and Yamanaka and legions of fans, the second half of the sequel never returned to the team after it was sent out for developing. You see, back in those days, video and digital technology in public schools was somewhat limited. So these motion pictures were shot on 8 millimeter analog chemical film, the kind that has to be sent somewhere to be developed, and the kind that deteriorates day by day. Matamala was especially hard hit by obvious conspiracy to steal the second half of the sequel – he never got over it, and about five or six years later he fled in dispair to his native Chile, where he threw himself into his work and was consoled by marrying a really hot wife and making adorable babies. Pellman likewise consoled himself by marrying a really hot wife and making adorable babies, but he only fled as far as Anaheim.

The entire first motion picture and what was returned of the second motion picture have been kept hidden deep in the vaults of the Pellman Archives for all of these years until very recently being exhumed for the purposes of being subjected to transfer to DVD.

The result was both better than I expected in parts and worse than I expected in other parts.

First, there’s the source material. Since we couldn’t watch the film until it had been developed and returned, we were unaware how much of the original movie had focus issues until it had been wrapped (I think I was not yet fully aware of my growing nearsightedness). We took greater care with the second production.

But speaking of the second motion picture, what we have of it was placed first on the DVD, and then the title footage from the first film was not included (perhaps it had deteriorated too much) and so the DVD watched straight through starts off with the first part of the sequel, never gets to the second part of the sequel (since we don’t have it), and then goes straight on to the entire first motion picture without any delineation. Eat your heart out, Christopher Nolan.

Other notes…

While making the first film, we pretty much were forced to change shots for each new day of filming, because the sets and characters were subject to vandalism and the equipment had to be moved. For the sequel, we were given our own tiny locked room because we were some of the few people who were actually serious about using class time to make a movie. (The instructor, who had impressive connections in the filmmaking world that she sometimes would bring in to class, wasn’t known for being a hard grader or a strict disciplinarian.)

We sculpted characters as we were inspired. We set about filming with a loose idea of what we wanted to do, and we would constantly brainstorm along the way. Two great characters that were in the lost second half of the sequel were a ninja-like opponent and a gigantic lizard. It is a shame they didn’t end up in the theatrical release or the DVD.

Finally, keep in mind that we were demented junior high school kids.

FOR A LIMITED TIME, you can view how the DVD transfer ended up by CLICKING HERE.

On the left, click on "Goremation".
You will be "treated" to the "highlights”. To see the whole thing, click on the tab that says "Entire YesDVD Video". There is no sound. Many blocks of clay died to bring you this.

If you order copies, I do not get residuals.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Coyotes in Ventura County

One of the things my Department - Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures - handles is protecting people from aggressive coyotes. However, we only do it unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County and with cities that contract with us. Currently, all of those cities are in Los Angeles County. But I spoke with Nancy Needham about coyotes within a Ventura County neighborhood, and so I was quoted in this story.

The L.A. County Agricultural Commission has a coyote removal program that uses snares to catch the coyote, which is then euthanized. It’s against the law to relocate coyotes, said Ken Pellman, spokesperson for the county agricultural commission.
Just for the record, the name of the Department is Commissioner, not Commission. The head of the Department is the Agricultural Commissioner for the county. We're not run on a day-to-day basis by a commission.

"We need coyotes. They perform a service. They keep rodent populations in check," Pellman said.

Many people love coyotes and are quick to point out the animals were here before we were, he said.

But the wily critters are not a protected species. Although coyotes cannot legally be caught with leg traps or killed with certain poisons, Pellman said, the humane extermination of coyotes is as legal as getting rid of rats.

He said coyotes that roam neighborhoods during the day and take pets out of backyards when people are present are a problem.

"They show aggression when they do not stay away from people. They become a danger when they are not afraid of people," Pellman said.
I was speaking more about infants and toddlers when I gave this crackerjack parenting advice...

"Children should always be watched. A child should never be left alone where coyotes have been trained to get food from people," Pellman said.
Ah, the circle of life.