By Peggy Lee Kennedy
If you didn’t already know, the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) held an election Saturday, February 21 at the Venice Abbot Kinney library. The election and the ballot counts consisted of more irregularities ever seen before in Venice and maybe the world.
The VNC web site claims that the vote is now certified, but exactly when do the two people who conduct an election – unseal the ballot box at the polling place to start the vote count, then put ballots in three smaller flimsy boxes, take these boxes full of ballots to their home, actually be the only two people who conduct the final ballot count the next day, and also be the same people who officially certify the election results?
The election stimulus (no federal money involved) for this Venice Neighborhood Council vote was an initiative petition, a provision of the VNC bylaws, submitted by Mark Lipman on December 16. The language of his initiative was meant to rescind the Neighborhood Council’s support of Overnight Permit Parking Districts (OPDs) in Venice, but some people felt that it was hard to understand.
The Overnight Permit Parking District law or OPD law, LAMC 80.54, is a law put through City Council in 2005 by Councilperson Bill Rosendahl and it is being used to remove those living in vehicles from affluent areas, including Venice. The Venice Neighborhood Council, whose president, Mike Newhouse, is a real estate attorney and whose board is mostly white homeowners, support the OPDs.
Subsequent to Lipman’s initiative petition, Mark Ryavec and Stewart Oscars, both well known for Venice Neighborhood Council involvement and for supporting criminialzation of homeless people, submitted an equally confusing opposing initiative petition the following month stating that permit parking is a right.
Overnight permit parking is in neither the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights nor the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Nonetheless, the Ryavec/Oscars initiative states that it is a right to have permit parking. What followed was a well-funded campaign based on fear, hate, and the pretense that permit parking is a public safety issue, an ideology which ensued up through the election day.
A group calling itself the Venice Stakeholders Association, which Mark Ryavec admits to be part of, paid almost $4,000 for Argonaut newspaper ads in favor of overnight permit parking. First, a 3/4 page advertisement appeared on February 12, which “was filled with unproven allegations, inaccuracies, and misleading statements.” (An exact quote of the portion deleted from a letter to the Editor printed the following week.) And it contained hate speech against homeless people, according to local human rights activist Calvin Moss, such as “ What is scarier than finding syringes, condoms and pornographic material in your yard, hoping it won’t be your children finding it next time?”
This advertisement was written as if an open letter to Venice residents and signed by Georgann Abraham, co-chair of the [pro] OPD committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council.
Two more three-quarter page ads appeared in the February 19 paper; one stating that “Those who live in RVs and vans have proposed an initiative to deprive [the real Venice residents of] their right…” and also a reprint of the previous week’s ad.
The Venice Stakeholders Association spread fear with flyers that went through Venice neighborhoods and which were also passed out in the election line! The flyers said permit parking is a safety issue and “LAPD says parking restrictions help keep burglars, muggers, and child predators out of our neighborhoods.”
The election process, itself, was poorly planned. Only three hours were provided to vote? The person apparently running the election was unable to maintain any real decorum. People were given multiple ballots to vote with. The ballot box was opened and the ballots went home with someone prior to any vote count.
The complaints so far are:
The LAPD blocked the entrance to the election location by parking their vehicles in front of the entrance of the library and people thought they could go into the lot. No sign was put up telling people to pull around the police car to drop off disabled or seniors.
LAPD officers milled around the election entrance throughout most of the election. Some people felt intimidated by the police presence and did not go vote at all.
The line was so long that people who knew they could not physically stand in line for hours simply did not try to vote.
There was no absentee voting process.
Ivan Spiegel, the person running the election, was yelling at people and some left without voting.
A polling volunteer inside the election witnessed people voting multiple times (they were given more than one ballot.)
A person voting, who qualified as a Venice stakeholder under VNC bylaws, had his or her registration form marked as “Non-Resident” by a polling volunteer.
The place voters marked their ballots during the election, was a small table where groups of people were allowed to mark their ballots together, talk among themselves, and consult each other how to vote.
Someone honest reported being given 3 ballots inside the polling place.
A VNC board officer harassed someone talking to friends in line, accusing him or her of electioneering, while a man was passing out a bright purple pro-OPD flyer to most of the election line right in front of him.
A VNC walking man flyer stating the actual ballot initiatives should have been distributed to Venice addresses. Most people who voted were informed by flyers or emails distributed by the initiative proponents or advertisements.
The VNC election committee decided the votes would be counted on the same day as the election and the count took place in a meeting the following day that was not given sufficient public notice.
No one should have taken the ballots home, especially after unsealing the ballot box.
The vote count and certification is not legal by any standards.
At the polling place, a decision was made by Ivan Spiegel, election chairperson, to begin the count at the library – even though the actual voting ended around 5pm and the library closed at 6pm. (If you were in the line to vote by 3:30, you could still vote and that is how long it took to finish.) There were multiple witnesses in the room. An initial one-time count of the total ballots was made and a number of 1504 total ballots was announced.
Spiegel then decided that there was not enough time to count the vote around 5:45 pm. Most of the witnesses demanded that the votes be counted and people started to yell and fight. One person, who made some sense, suggested that the ballots be picked up by a Brinks document service. After a very crazy exchange of screaming and arguing back and forth, a decision was made by Spiegel to meet at the Extra Space Storage on Venice Blvd. at 11am the next morning and Elizabeth Wright, the other person on the VNC election committee and the person who was supposed to be working with Spiegel to manage the election, took the ballots home – flimsy boxes an all – in her minivan!
On Sunday, February 22, the Wright minivan pulled up to Extra Space Storage with the overnight ballot guests. The count took place in a small, extremely hot room with people who want to remove the poor people from Venice. Someone described it as Hell. There were three tables of two counters and one witness each. Two of tables had witnesses that participated fully in the tally process of the counts. They did not maintain their witness status at all.
After hours of unreasonable temperatures in the Extra Space Storage room and many confusing recounts of tallies, each table provided Spiegel with their tally sheets. Then most of the counters and the so-called witnesses left. Spiegel added up the tally sheets (by hand), but found out that they were more than 300 ballots shy of the 1504 count from the night before.
Spiegel and Wright then decided to count the votes themselves! They are the people who ran the election and then counted the votes, tallied the votes by hand (no calculator), found the more than 300 missing votes plus 6 more, and, finally, Spiegel announced that he certified the election. Wow! All in all a deeply flawed election
Despite all of the alleged cheating, the misconduct, the police blocking the entrance of the polling place, the fear campaign waged by homeless haters, confusing ballot initiatives, and the lines that no working or disabled person could possibly wait in – the vote in favor of the anti-homeless Overnight Parking Districts still only came out to a 57 percent lead. Considering that Rosendahl insists each block will require a 66 percent approval to get the permit parking put in, then OPDs lost.