In Avalon, Residents Take Their Voting Seriously

Times Staff Writer

In the quaint town of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, elections are a little different from those on the mainland.

For one thing, nearly everyone is registered to vote. For Tuesday’s municipal election, 1,591 of the city’s approximately 2,300 permanent residents were registered. Of the 700 or so who weren’t, 500 are children, City Clerk Shirley Davy said.

And usually, most everyone votes as well.

Tuesday, 58% of the voters went to the polls, one of the higher percentages in the Los Angeles area. But for Avalon it was something of a disappointment. Only once since 1969 has the turnout been so low. According to election records, voter turnout since 1969 has averaged nearly 74%, with a low of 58% in 1982 and a high of 89.2% in 1969.


“People are pretty interested in local government,” said James F. Trout, 84, who has been an island resident on and off since 1911. “People out here know their votes count and can see it.”

That was obvious in Tuesday’s election, in which six candidates were running for two council seats. Irene L. Strobel, who won another term on the council by coming in second, ended up only 7 votes ahead of the third-place finisher and 14 votes ahead of the candidate who came in fourth. (Hal Host was the other winner.)

Sally Lopez, 77, is proud to have voted in every election in the 40 years she has lived on the island.

‘I see other people who complain about city government but don’t vote,” she said while waiting for a friend at the Los Angeles County courthouse here, one of the city’s three polling places. “I vote so that I can complain.”


Posh Gardiner, 32, a 12-year resident, said vengeance can be an incentive to vote. “Everybody knows the candidates,” he said, “so if I want to get back at somebody, I can vote against that person.”

Another oddity about Avalon elections is that many of the political posters that are pasted on the windows of businesses come down on Election Day. If left up, they would be in violation of the state’s ban on electioneering within 300 feet of polling places.

The three polling places--an empty storefront in the courtyard of a restaurant and bar called Solomon’s Landing, a hall at St. Catherine Catholic Church and the county courthouse--are within five minutes’ walking distance of one another and many businesses lie in between.

But while the proximity of everything in this one-square-mile city can be a disadvantage for candidates, it’s great for voters.


“People can vote before work, at lunch or after work without any problem,” said Betty Schweninger, a volunteer election official.

Voting here is taken seriously, and employers are considerate. Dodie Bogart, who owns two restaurants and a candy store, was working as an election official at St. Catherine. She said she allows her employees to leave work--while on the clock--to vote.

She said many people who have moved off the island continue to vote in Avalon because of concern for the city and its politics.

“My daughter now lives in Upland, but she votes here because she still cares about Avalon,” she said.


Bogart said precinct workers in Avalon have an advantage over their counterparts in urban areas: Everyone here knows one another.

But even if the worker knows each voters’ name, their addresses present a problem. In Avalon, there is no home mail delivery and everyone has a post office box. As a result, few residents have reason to commit their addresses to memory, and some residents had to think a moment on Election Day when asked where they live.