Tucked into a package of recommendations which the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners recently gave to the City Council about how to improve future Neighborhood Council elections, was the issue of online voting, which falls under council File No. 15-1022-S2. On October 3rd, these recommendations (item 9) were presented before City Council and adopted with the caveat that a report was due back in 60 days detailing online voting efficacy, security and improved documentation. Charged with overseeing this report is Councilman Ryu, who chairs the newly formed “Health, Education and Neighborhood Councils Committee”. Keep your eye on a new contract that would need to be signed with Everyone Counts. Everyone Counts is a 3rd party San Diego-based online voting platform the City has previously paid to run online elections in 2016 as well as the 2017 Skid Row NC Subdivision election, for which there are still several unresolved issues- many having to do with online voting.
The main point I want to make in this piece is that NC online voting clearly favors some Stakeholders over others, thus giving the advantage to those with more access and power. This is the opposite of what this system is supposed to be about. Yes, I know you may have heard that online voting increases “voter participation” but at what cost? The City of Los Angles is apparently so incapable of resisting the lure of big money, that even our Neighborhood Council elections have become corrupt! It has been well documented that several highly paid lobbyists were working to thwart the efforts of our Skid Row NC-Formation Committee (General Jeff, Tony Butka, Laura Velkei, Lisa Sarkin and Judy Price all wrote pieces on our election and its aftermath for Citywatch- and I would highly recommend reading them for more details).
Online voting disadvantages low-income and homeless Stakeholders and communities because of the simple fact that these households are much less likely to have easy access to a computer- let alone a SCANNER, which is necessary to upload personal identification onto the Everyone Counts platform. According to a 2013 joint study by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Equality, Los Angeles ranks as THE most impoverished county in the State when considering the cost of housing and median household income. 25.6 percent of people in LA County are in economic distress. Now overlay this information about the high rates of poverty in our City on top of the Everyone Counts platform.
Skid Row is a predominately African American and very low-income community of approximately 12K people. Our Skid Row Neighborhood Council-Formation Committee took a vote and decided we did not want online voting for our election. We submitted a letter to DONE stating this and were repeated told by them that no, there would be no online voting. Scandalously, less than two weeks before our election, DONE announced that actually, there would be online voting, which is what highly paid lobbyists were hired to make sure of. So, you could say that online voting was used as a weapon against Skid Row. This had the effect of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. As of writing this, our Formation Committee has still not been contacted about the online voting irregularities we experienced and have informed DONE and BONC about. Neither were our specific concerns about voter suppression listed in the package of recommendations that councilman Ryu currently has before him. Now that the City has a playbook of how to subvert the vote of low income people without computer access, don’t be so sure this won’t play out in your neighborhood but with a slightly different twist.
And if you feel that your neighborhood was wronged in an election with online voting as part of it, there is no recourse through the current and available NC channels. In our case, we challenged several things about our election and an Election Challenge Panel was convened that found in our favor. Unfortunately, DONE roundly tossed out and ignored its own Panel’s recommendations. Bottom line is, you’ll need a lawyer to receive any justice. My takeaway is that you should not trust the City with any online voting, ever, period- just like you wouldn’t trust a fox guarding a hen house.
I took our concerns about online voting to a couple recent Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) meetings. Many of the attendees there were supportive of our concerns and even agreed to pass a motion asking City Council and its Committees to investigate why the recommendations of DONE’s Election Challenge Panel were ignored. I did find it curious however, that with all the spirited grousing about the corruption in City Hall most at LANCC are still blindly trusting of City Hall overseeing online voting. Hmmm.
Additionally, let’s not forget that online voting does not allow the Public the right to oversee the vote tally immediately following an election. It is also unclear if Everyone Counts would allow the Public the right to see verification of Stakeholder status for each voter following an election. The City opens themselves to more litigation by not having Stakeholders be able to see all the votes directly following an election.
In closing, my hope is that other Los Angeles Stakeholders carefully consider just who our Neighborhood Council system is supposed to be empowering. Those who already have access and power…and scanners? Or, those who are trying desperately to gain some power and need to use the library for their computer access.
(Katherine McNenny has been a resident of Skid Row since 2010, is a member of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council-Formation Committee and co-founded Industrial District Green.)