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Some Forced to Mail In Their Votes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Good thing Bernice Kaufman didn’t mistake the election literature she received the other day for campaign junk mail to be tossed out.

The mailer was one of the 11,626 mandatory absentee ballots sent to unsuspecting Los Angeles County voters who will have no polling place to visit next week, thanks to statewide legislative redistricting.

Direct voting has been eliminated at Kaufman’s Wilshire District precinct and in hundreds of other neighborhoods across Los Angeles. Those left without a polling place must use an absentee ballot.

The new political boundaries are not the only hurdle that election officials are facing as Tuesday’s voting draws close:

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* A new system that allowed voters to register up to 15 days before the election instead of the previous 29-day deadline has sent election employees scurrying to update registration lists and complete distribution of election supplies to the county’s 4,845 voting locations.

* The cost of producing sample ballots has soared as officials juggled printing press runs to accommodate not only the new political districts but extra candidate statements now allowed under new state procedures.

* The scheduling of a gubernatorial election in March rather than June has caused some schools to refuse use of auditoriums as polling places. That has forced election planners to scramble to find alternate voting sites.

About 20% of the county’s 4.1 million voters will use voting booths in an unfamiliar place next week, said Conny B. McCormack, the county’s registrar-recorder/county clerk. “It’s a big problem. People who have been going to the same place to vote for years have to go somewhere else. People are kind of upset.”

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The redistricting is responsible for an explosion of sample ballot configurations, McCormack said. The pamphlet jumped from about 180 versions at the last election to 398 this time.

Enactment of Proposition 34, which voters approved in November 2000, also helped expand the size of the sample ballot by allowing candidates for state legislative seats to include statements if they agree to specified voluntary campaign expenditure limits. In the past, only statements for candidates for nonpartisan offices were included.

The county spent about $3 million printing this election’s sample ballot. The most ever spent before was $1.4 million.

Officials in Orange and Ventura counties say redistricting has had less of an impact on voters there. “The 15-day deadline was a horrendous problem, but we’re in good shape,” said Rosalyn Lever, Orange County’s registrar of voters.

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“Every problem we have is magnified 10 times in L.A. County,” said Bruce Bradley, assistant registrar of voters for Ventura County. But in Los Angeles, “the new lines go everywhere,” dividing neighborhoods, often down the middle of a residential street, McCormack said. Because voting precinct boundary lines cannot cross legislative and special district boundaries, dozens of “pockets” of voters are isolated from neighboring precincts.

State law allows local election officials to designate precincts with 250 or fewer voters for absentee voting. That’s how Kaufman’s two-square-block neighborhood in the Carthay Circle area became a mail-in precinct.

McCormack urged voters to carefully examine mail sent by her office for new polling place addresses--or for mandatory absentee ballots. Absentee ballots must be in election workers’ hands by 8 p.m. Tuesday to be counted. If not mailed, they can be delivered to any polling place on election day.

As for Kaufman, she had finished poking the chads off her ballot and had mailed it in Thursday. She said she was not looking forward to staying home on election day. “I was a fifth-grade teacher for 18 years over at Carthay Center Elementary School, where we vote. I looked forward to seeing old friends and parents there on election day. I’m going to miss that.”

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