On Nov. 3, Beverly Hills voters will cast ballots in the Special Municipal Election for Ballot Measure RP, the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) school board election, and of course, the national Presidential General Election. In preparation for the voting process, the City Clerk’s office has presented possible locations for vote centers that meet COVID-19 restrictions and vote-by-mail (VBM) Drop Boxes. The discussions during the Sept. 1 City Council Study Session also addressed concerns from the public regarding the reliability of the United States Postal Service (USPS), measures being taken to ensure a fair election, resources for voters, protections against voter fraud and how to safely vote this November.
“While we really can’t say for sure what our situation will be in November, we have no choice but to plan based on information we have today,” said City Clerk Huma Ahmed. “And that is, we are still in a global pandemic due to COVID-19 and that there is still a declared emergency in place.”
Voters will have three specific ways to cast their ballots: vote-by-mail via USPS, in-person voting and secure Drop Boxes, where voters can deposit their ballots to be collected later by election officials. All registered voters in Los Angeles County will receive a vote-by-mail ballot via UPS that they can fill out and mail back beginning Oct. 5, with postage already included.
To address vote-by-mail concerns, L.A. County has developed an online system called Ballot Trax, which provides information when a voter is to receive a ballot in the mail and when a ballot is received by Los Angeles County. “The post office has been working directly not only with the Los Angeles County registrar’s office, but they’re also working with the California Secretary of State, and they have assured us that they will do everything in their power to make sure that each ballot reaches the Los Angeles County registrar’s office, no matter what,” Ahmed said. “But in order to be counted, ballots must be postmarked by election day on Tuesday, Nov. 3.”
There will also be over 300 secure vote-by-mail Drop Boxes in the County. In Beverly Hills, plans currently call for two drop boxes, one at City Hall and one at Roxbury Park. The capacity for each box is about 5,000 ballots and they are accessible 24 hours. The boxes are made of stainless steel and secured to the ground. The mail slot is small enough for only a ballot and there are protections against liquids and graffiti. “The pandemic is one of the reasons why the ballots are being mailed directly to registered voters and why in-person vote centers are being reduced,” Ahmed said. “However, currently under the California elections code, an in-person vote center is required for voters to cast their ballot should they wish. So, we are providing that option.”
Due to COVID-19 limitations, the City is unable to accommodate as many voting centers as in the past. “Our regular City facilities were either not available or did not meet guideline requirements,” Ahmed said. “And when we are considering vote centers in the middle of a pandemic, there needs to be enough room for social distancing and installation of the machines, their security and allowing for members of the public to vote in a safe and secure environment.”
There are two types of vote centers being considered. One option is to use public facilities, such as schools and government facilities. The other option is to utilize private businesses, organizations and hotels. Currently, the only public City-owned space that meets the County’s public health guidelines is the parking structure at 450 North Crescent Dr. on the first floor. Ahmed conceded that there will be skeptics about the parking lot setting, but countered:
“It’s a huge space. It allows for people to come in and exit from different access points. And it’s a secure location.”
County guidelines for in-person voting include wiping and sanitizing all surfaces and Ballot Marking Devices after each voter; social distancing of six feet and voters and election workers must wear facial coverings and gloves (which will be provided if needed).
Other locations under consideration include the auditorium at Horace Mann school on the La Cienega/Wilshire side, and the Wilshire ballroom at the Beverly Hilton. “We will continue to work with the county on identifying additional locations, but we’d like to have City Council approval to use the 450 North Crescent Drive parking structure as a vote center,” Ahmed added.