CSUN dorm and Northridge community residents turned out to vote at a polling site in the Satellite Student Union Tuesday, with some members of the community and poll workers confused over a changed voting location that brought outsiders onto campus.
This year residents who live close to CSUN had their polling place moved to the SSU lobby from a neighborhood location. Earlier this month, voters received a small postcard notifying a change in their polling location. It listed the location “Cal State Northridge SSU Lobby 9851 Zelzah Ave.” with no further instruction.
Volunteer poll worker Tom Bellows and some of his election precinct co-workers said they were frustrated with the situation.
Due to consolidations of precincts around Los Angeles and across the state, many Northridge residents had their polling places changed to the campus’ SSU location.
“This is a disaster as far as I’m concerned,” Bellows said.
Bellows said it was a poor polling place for the community because the parking was confusing, the location was confusing, and the location was not friendly to the elderly or disabled in the community.
“The building entrance doesn’t face the street. It faces campus,” Bellows said.
The building, known by many students, does not have an easily recognizable entrance or readily accessible parking for the community along Zelzah Avenue or Lassen Street.
Bellows estimated that about 30 students had voted by 12:30 p.m., and that the majority of people who came to vote there were residents. While checking their information with the volunteers, some voters asked each other where they parked and how they found the polling location.
Northridge resident Osvaldo Bartolomeo’s spoke with visible irritation as he inserted his completed ballot into the box. He sighed when he discovered that he was not the only one who complained.
“It is hard to find this place. I had to walk around forever looking for it,” Bartolomeo said.
Susan Widelitz of the CSUN governmental affairs office said actions were taken quickly to waive parking fees in three parking lots surrounding the SSU when it was brought to the university’s attention that the precinct would include residents.
Dorena Knepper from governmental relations at CSUN said the university found out about the expanded precinct on accident as her office checked final details for Election Day, which included parking for poll workers. School officials then had to secure free parking for residents to ensure that the parking fees would not be considered poll taxes on voters.
CSUN officials said they had done everything they could to get the word about the site. It is commonly the responsibility of state officials to notify voters of changed election sites, especially in the case of special elections.
An electronic sign was placed on Zelzah Avenue near the SSU directing potential voters to park in the G9 parking structure for Election Day.
“CSUN staff has been extremely helpful,” Bellows said. “They’ve made signs for us and have gone out of their way to assist us.”
The problem seemed to be communicating this to the residents. Few knew that parking permit requirements were waived for Election Day, or how to get to the SSU.
Volunteer poll worker Emmalee Grey, 63, lives near the CSUN campus and has volunteered for other California elections. Many of her neighbors were given voting assignments to the SSU.
“A lot of people, especially (where I live), have lived here for more than 30 years,” Grey said. “A lot of them aren’t as young as I am, and a lot of them aren’t as capable as me. I’m active in the community and I can see, this just does not work for them.”
She said she learned that some voters left the area without voting, thinking they had to pay for parking. She said some returned when they discovered after calling neighbors who already voted that parking was free in the lots surrounding the G9 structure.
Later in the afternoon, a precinct supervisor told Bellows and poll workers to inform voters that opinions and concerns could be expressed through the Los Angeles County registrar’s website. The supervisor also told them that a report would likely be written to try and remedy the possibility of future problems.
Chris Daines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.