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County has mail ballot headache

Oldham and Vives are Times staff writers.

Thousands of Los Angeles County voters may not receive their mail-in ballots in time to actually mail them in, county officials said Wednesday.

Clerks were racing to process about 13,000 last-minute vote-by-mail applications while also handling 55,000 remaining voter registrations, said Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan.

The 11th-hour backlog could lead to election day confusion, and officials are advising voters who are unsure of their registration or mail-in-ballot status to check the registrar’s website at www.lavote.net. Although 220 phone operators are on duty, some callers said they have had difficulty getting through.

“We are getting 18,000 phone calls coming in a day,” Logan said. “The phone vendors we deal with compared it to what happens when there’s an earthquake and the phone lines get jammed.”

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As early voters queued up in 90-minute-long lines Wednesday outside the registrar’s Norwalk office, Logan said he was confident that all mail-in ballots will be sent out by Friday -- the last day voters should mail back their completed ballots to ensure that they arrive on time.

After Friday, voters should not mail in their ballot, Logan said. Instead, they should hand-deliver it to the registrar’s Norwalk office, 12400 Imperial Highway, or drop it off on election day at any polling place in the county.

Any ballots received after 8 p.m. Tuesday will not be counted.

The deadline crunch comes as an unprecedented number of voters in Los Angeles County and California have applied to vote by mail. About 23% of the county’s 4.3 million registered voters, or 977,000, had requested mail ballots, Logan said.

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Statewide, more than half of registered voters are expected to mail in their ballots, marking a fundamental shift in favor of the mailbox over the election day ballot box.

Paul Hunt, a Sierra Madre voter, said he applied early for his vote-by-mail ballot and was concerned when he had not received it about two weeks later.

“If I did not receive the ballot in time to return it by Nov. 4th, I would have been out of luck,” Hunt said in an e-mail.

The Southern California Edison Co. manager said he finally received his ballot Tuesday and mailed it back the next day.

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Registrars throughout the state also have reported a record number of new registrations.

In Los Angeles County, clerks were working overtime to process a backlog of 55,000 voter registration applications by Friday. New voters are advised to check the registrar’s website to confirm that they officially got on the voter roster.

If a voter’s name is not listed on the online roster, he or she will be provided a provisional ballot at his or her polling place. Polling place locations also can be found on the registrar’s website.

Logan said a supplemental list of voters will be sent via FedEx to poll inspectors this weekend and voters will receive an automated call directing them to their neighborhood polling place.

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Los Feliz resident Kristin Smith, who recently moved here, said an election assistant told her that the registration form she mailed in September was “most likely lost,” and advised her to vote provisionally Nov. 4.

Interest in early voting in California mirrors the popularity of alternative voting methods nationwide, with millions turning out days before Nov. 4 to cast their ballots. Thirty-three states offer either in-person early voting or absentee ballots. In California, residents can vote early in person in 19 of the state’s 58 counties.

In Los Angeles County, Logan attributed the unprecedented interest in early voting to predictions that a record number of people will jam the county’s 5,000 or so polling places on election day to cast a ballot for the nation’s first African American president or first woman vice president.

So far about 9,500 residents have trekked to Norwalk to vote since Oct. 6, prompting Logan to extend office hours. On Friday and Saturday voting booths are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and on Sunday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

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Wednesday, more than 100 people stood in line at midday. Some came prepared for crowds, stationing folding chairs on the sidewalk. Many said they were too busy to vote Nov. 4 and had decided to try voting early for the first time.

“This is a historic election, I want to make sure my vote makes it in,” said Kiriski Mitchell, 44, a registered nurse from West Covina. “It’s so nice to see that people are waiting in line to vote.”

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jennifer.oldham@latimes.com

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Tips for mail-in ballots

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* Friday is the last day voters should mail in their ballots.

* After that, ballots should be hand-delivered to the registrar’s Norwalk office, 12400 Imperial Highway.

* As an alternative, voters can drop completed ballots off on election day at any polling place in Los Angeles County.

Source: L.A. County registrar of voters

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