Roll out the barrels: When elections were fun
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Nov. 9. I’m Gale Holland, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, seated in my Echo Park bedroom/home office, hoping that the scrunchie I tied around the latch of the 85-year-old casement window I’m looking through holds when the next storm rolls in.
California has made it so very easy to vote in other ways that showing up at the polls on election day is strictly optional. Mail-in ballots arrive automatically with no postage due, to drop in the post or one of the election boxes scattered through town.
Voters can also cast ballots in person during nine days of early voting; register to vote online, or in person on election day; or designate a proxy to deliver their ballots. You can even get a new ballot if you mess up early enough.
Easy, yes, but fun? Nope. Fun election day is an American tradition that has faded away entirely since George Washington spent his entire campaign budget, 50 pounds, on 160 gallons of liquor in hopes of persuading 391 voters to go his way. Apparently, it worked.
Election day was even more fun in the 19th century, particularly in New York, where the Tammany Hall political machine used alcohol and muscle to gin elections in its favor.
Instead of robocalls, Tammany Hall campaigners “got out the vote” starting election eve, luring drunks and homeless men with food and alcohol and trapping them overnight in a basement or back room. After a successful “cooping” — as in “chicken cooping” — the men were force-fed more alcohol and food and hauled from one polling place to another, until they had cast enough ballots to put the “correct candidate” over the top.
Corrupt, yes. Violent, sure, but for those with the stomach for it, probably fun.
In the hopes of turning election day into a celebration, people have called to make it a holiday. The idea has gone exactly nowhere.
Awakening Tuesday on a very wet, blustery morning, I visited several polling places, expecting to find ghost towns, given how many Angelenos seem to believe they will melt if they go out in the rain.
But instead, shortly before 9 a.m., a steady stream of voters appeared at El Sereno Senior Center, saying they had waited until election day to make sure their ballots were not lost or tampered with.
“It’s called election day for a reason, not election week or election season,” said one burly man who, like several other mistrustful voters, didn’t want to be identified. “It helps prevent cheating by the filthy Democrats.”
Luis Vasquez, 76, a retired factory worker, said he especially wanted his vote counted against Kenneth Mejia, a progressive Los Angeles city controller candidate. “A little,” he said when asked if Mejia was too radical for him.
Near downtown Los Angeles, Lasell Bourne said he walked from his skid row apartment to the James M. Wood Community Center because his community needed to be present and fight more to improve conditions in the homeless enclave.
“It’s probably also tradition,” said the 69-year-old retired warehouseman and security guard, who also said he wanted to vote for “her.”
“She’s a Democrat and she’s Black,” he said, explaining his support for L.A. mayoral candidate Karen Bass, and his assessment of her rival, real estate developer Rick Caruso, a longtime Republican who changed his registration from decline to state to Democrat while mulling a previous candidacy: “He is masquerading as a Democrat,” Bourne said.
In a helmet and sleeves, Emory Taylor, 79, bicycled through intermittent rain to vote a straight Republican ticket at Irvine City Hall. He told my colleague Gabriel San Ramon that showing up was “just habit.”
“It’s part of my personal culture to stand in line and vote,” he said. “It’s the community coming together.”
Voters were jolly at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mid-City, where Ambrea Miller, 32, who works in fashion, walked to cast her ballot. Miller said she too was concerned about ballot security. But she mainly waited for election day because in-person voting felt “more real. It’s official.”
Miller wore her “I Voted” sticker as she walked out of the polling area, as did Marcy Levitas Hamilton, chief executive of a film distribution company, and her husband and business partner, Strath Hamilton. “I like voting on voting day,” Levitas Hamilton said. “I just like that feeling and getting that patch. It’s my patriotic duty.”
Another voter realized she’d forgotten her “I Voted” sticker and rushed back in to get it. “Blessings,” she said as she bid goodbye after a chat about neighborhood news.
I too like the sense of community of voting in person and wearing the patch, pathetic as that might be. I have happy memories of taking my kids into the voting booth and getting them their own stickers. Earlier in the pandemic, Dodger Stadium opened to voting, and my white husky, Lucy, enjoyed scavenging for leftover Dodger dog crumbs.
This was the first year I used a drop box. Next year, I am going to go back to my polling place. I like feeling a part, however minuscule, of the democratic process. And damn it, I want my election day voting sticker.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.
Check out "The Times" podcast for essential news and more
These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Ballot count is expected to go slowly. Consult Los Angeles Times election trackers for the latest, up-to-the-minute local and statewide returns. L.A. city and county election results; California election results
Hollywood stars! They vote just like us! Chris Pratt, Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow on Team Caruso faced off with Alfre Woodard, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Chelsea Handler and Mark Hamill Bass-side in the crucial race for Los Angeles mayor. Los Angeles Times
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
First arrest in FBI investigation of Girardi law firm. The man with the purse strings at Tom Girardi’s corruption-ridden law firm was arrested over the weekend on suspicion of wire fraud. Ex-Chief Financial Officer Christopher Kamon’s arrest is the first in the FBI investigation of the venerable Girardi Keese law firm, which collapsed amid evidence of rampant misappropriation of clients’ funds. Los Angeles Times
Celebrity trials collide in L.A. County courthouse. Disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial is bumping up against a trial of actor Danny Masterson, who is accused of raping fellow Scientologists, on the courthouse floor where O.J. Simpson and serial killers the Night Stalker and the Grim Sleeper were brought to justice. Los Angeles Times
“Absolutely terrifying.” That was Amanda Barragar’s reaction to a double shooting in Trinity County — as well as having a front-row seat to the confrontation between police and the suspect. The shooter killed one person in Weaverville, then drove across the county and killed another. To her horror, instead of fleeing, the suspect circled back and holed up in a house a block from her office. Redding Record Searchlight
Support our journalism
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
COVID is still mowing us down. Even with the surge of the “milder” Omicron variant, COVID-19 remains a leading cause of death in L.A. County.
Mistaken flash-flood warning sent in L.A. The warning, hours before polls closed, went out to a far larger area than intended as a storm lashed Southern California, killing at least one person and forcing multiple swift-water rescue attempts. Los Angeles Times
Lost in translation. When San Francisco high schooler Emmett Chen-Ran came out as transgender, he worried whether his immigrant parents would understand and accept him. He also worried how to tell them: in English or Chinese? In Chinese, gender pronouns are the same, but in English, his parents sometimes misgendered him. Were they rejecting him — or struggling with a second language? NPR Code Switch
Damn. Not me. DAMN. The winning ticket for the record $2.04-billion Powerball jackpot was sold in Altadena. Los Angeles Times
It shook me “kind of like a dog.” Knocked out of the water during a swim off Del Mar in San Diego County, Lyn Jutronich knew immediately what had happened: shark attack. She’s still processing the violence, but said she didn’t know whether she saw the shark bite her leg or the aftermath. “But I definitely saw the mouth,” Jutronich said Monday from the hospital bed where she was recovering from puncture wounds and lacerations. San Diego Union Tribune, Associated Press
Hunger games, Oakland-style. A 12-year-old charcuterie in Montclair Village and a months-old Ethiopian cafe market are among recent casualties of the cut-throat Bay Area restaurant sweepstakes. What caused the closures? Rising rents, spiraling food costs — or a harbinger of deep recession? Hope not. Oaklandside
Dr. No. Five books showcase the enigmatic style of L.A. fiction writer Percy Everett, who will be in conversation with Times columnist LZ Granderson on Nov. 16 as part of L.A. Times Book Club. Tickets at Eventbrite. Los Angeles Times
Godfather of dirty realism. With a potentially generation-defining election in the balance, whom better to consult than Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), the “godfather of dirty realism,” possessor of a voluminous FBI file and author of scads of poems including “Odes to Los Angeles.” Vox Populi
Free online games
Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.
Los Angeles: 53, chance of showers. San Diego: 64, chance of rain, then sunny. San Francisco: 51, mostly sunny. San Jose: 52, partly cloudy. Fresno: 54, partly cloudy. Sacramento: 50, mostly cloudy.
Today’s California memory is from Peter Mellini:
In June 1968, I rented a one-bedroom flat on Russian Hill in San Francisco for $135. In 1970, I spent the summer in Europe. My salary as a history instructor at Stanford 1968-70 was $7,500 a year and I saved enough money to cover all my European travels and the down payment on a Saab. And I had plenty of fun as well as finishing a History PhD. Never again?
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to email@example.com.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.