Santa Monicans Weigh on Vote
By Gene Williams
November 9 -- Santa Monica voters streamed to the polls Tuesday, with some travelling nearly 20 blocks to cast their votes in a controversial statewide Special Election that is widely seen as a referendum on the Governor's future.
By election eve, a record $250 million had been spent by supporters and opponents of the propositions. And while the issues were yet to be decided, analysts predicted that the four initiatives sponsored by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger looked to be in trouble.
That certainly seemed to be true in Santa Monica where, of the 57,000 voters registered by October 24, Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly three to one and almost a quarter of voters declare no party affiliation.
Expressing a view echoed by many across town and across the state, one resident called the election "a terrible idea and a waste of money."
Perhaps an equal number said they opposed the governor's initiatives, but supported the election because it let voters decide the issues.
Far fewer Santa Monicans expressed outright support for Schwarzenegger's agenda.
That's what The Lookout found during election morning visits to three polling places across the city. Here is what we saw and heard:
"They're comin' in," said Joe Fischer, a poll worker at Grant Elementary School in Sunset Park where, shortly before 8 a.m., a line of voters were waiting to get their ballots.
"We have been going steady without a break since we opened," Fischer said.
Even so, after all the votes are counted, probably fewer than half of the city's voters will have cast ballots.
Statewide, officials predict voter turnout at 42 percent, and while Santa Monicans typically vote in greater numbers than the state average, only 48 percent of the city's voters cast ballots in the fall 2003 recall election that sent Schwarzenegger to Sacramento.That was 13 percent below the total turnout for California.
But that was still good for an off year election. In an earlier 2003 mail-in election, only 34 percent voted statewide.
After casting his ballot, John Cramer, a computer programmer who works under contract with UCLA, said he was "disappointed that we're having to do this."
"We elect officials to go hammer this stuff out," Cramer said. "They have a job to do and they're not doing it."
Cramer said he has nothing against the initiative process, but the governor should have waited until the next election in 2006.
"How far are these things going to go? How often are we going to be doing this?" he asked, making reference to the past two special elections.
Across town, north of Wilshire at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Catherine Lanzarotta took a less critical view of the election.
"I'm glad we have an opportunity to have our voices heard, especially where schools are involved," Lanzarotta said, adding that her 10-year-old son is at Rooselvelt Elementary nearby.
Lanzarotta said she voted "yes" on 78 and 79 - the prescription drug initiatives - and on 80 - the energy initiative. She voted "no" on all the others.
"I feel strongly about not giving Governor Schwarzenegger too much power," she said.
A move to consolitade voting precincts sent Pico neighborhood residents from as far east as 20th Street to Phillips Chapel on 4th and Bay streets to vote.
"I don't know why the county did it," said poll worker James Rodgers. "But we're having a good turnout."
In the church parking lot, Valroide Lyons stopped to talk with friends before going in to vote.
"I think it's a waste of money," said Lyons.
"We have people starving. People need food," he said, referring to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. "And we have the audacity to waste money on these crazy, crazy, crazy questions."
Of the dozen people interviewed, only two expressed support for the governor. One of them -- a middle aged man in denim work clothes who spoke with a thick foreign accent and didn't want to give his name - said, "I think it's OK. Let Schwarzenegger make some changes."
The other was Army 1st Lieutenant Dennis Wilson, who returned from Iraq in May and remains on active duty with the California National Guard.
Wilson grew up in Santa Monica and attended Grant School, where he had just finished casting his ballot
"He's doing the right thing to bring it to the people," Wilson said. "The people will decide whether his issues are valid or not."
Of course, not everyone in Santa Monica voted on Tuesday.
Mayor Pam O'Connor cast her vote a week earlier - and in Culver City no less!
O'Connor is a big fan of electronic "touch screen" voting, a pilot program that has been operating at selected sites across the state for several years now.
"I love the touch screen," O'Connor said Monday, explaining that it allows her to vote quickly and easily and at a variety of sites anytime during a "multi-week period."
"It's not complicated," O'Connor said. "It's very well organized and painless."Touch screen was available in Santa Monica before demolition of the Main Library, O'Connor said. The mayor hopes the program will return to Santa Monica in time for the next election when the new library is finished.
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