On March 3rd (“Super Tuesday”), 16 primary elections will take place in the U.S. – Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Democrats Abroad, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.
Of course everyone’s attention is focused on the presidential aspect of these elections. We’ll deal with that next week. Right now, the focus will be on California and Los Angeles county elections. That’s because since significant changes in the electoral system are being implemented for the first time in these jurisdictions there is the now-commonplace factor of numerous Armenians running for public elective office.
The big change in Los Angeles County is the introduction of an electronic voting system. Thankfully the system does have a paper trail associated with it, though from what I have understood, it is not completely isolated from the internet, so it may still be hackable (though I don’t want to pretend to be a cyber-expert).
In addition, because of changes in California law a few years ago, the overwhelming majority of cities, counties and other small electoral jurisdictions (e.g. water boards) have opted (having almost no alternative) to consolidate their elections with the state’s primary and general elections. One result has been that the local elections end up at the tail end of a very long ballot and are likely to be overlooked by voters. Los Angeles County was able to get legislation enabling it to test the opposite. That is, the local elections will be the first ones voters see in their ballot books. The test will be in effect for three election cycles, after which an assessment will be made to see if voting rates in local races are higher in LA than elsewhere in the state.
I had the opportunity to “practice vote” on one of the new electronic systems. I did it both in Armenian and English. The ballot is also accompanied by recordings of what it is that you are voting on. I copied the printout of my voting choices. Take a look at it, and have fun as I did by always choosing the write-in candidate option. Unfortunately, if you do write in, only an English keyboard is available as you’ll notice. Also, if you choose not to vote (or accidentally omit) for a position, the system informs you – look at the second position where I left rows H and J blank. This way you can go back and correct any mistakes, an option the system gives you once you are all done voting (but before actually turning in your ballot). You can also simply go back to previous screens. One thing to be careful about – when there are a lot of candidates for one position, not all of them are visible on the screen at once. Be sure to scroll all the way down so you can choose the candidate(s) you want. The other unpleasant aspect is the use of the Soviet imposed orthography. Overall, I’d say it’s a good system, easy to use.
Another big change coupled with electronic voting is that local polling places are going away. Instead, polling centers have been set up, and you will be able to vote at any one of them in the county. You can look for the most convenient one here.
The third big change is that early voting will be available for 10 days before election day. You will be able to go the polling location you have chosen starting February 22. Plus, additional polling locations will be available starting February 29. Unfortunately, the early voting is 8 am to 5 pm which will make it hard for those who have work commitments, but it’s a step in the right direction. Also, this does not impact voting by mail which will continue as before.
As far as specific races go, Glendale and Pasadena have chosen to hold their elections in conjunction with these primary elections. Most other cities have opted for the November general elections. These two cities are important because of their significant Armenian populations. I will refer readers to the ANCA’s endorsements which will be posted online in the next few days for countless races. You may have already seen some of the endorsements issued to the media. Go to Hyevotes.org or ANCAWR.org to get this information. But I do want to call out four first-time Armenian candidates who, because of their long term service to and in the Armenian community are worthy of your attention and vote if you live in their jurisdiction: for Glendale City Council – Ardashes Kassakhian and Leonard Manoukian; for Pasadena City Council – Boghos Patatian; and for Democratic County Central Committee from the 43rd Assembly District, Elen Asatryan (more on this later).
There is a lot going on in LA County. There is very serious competition for District Attorney. Three of the county supervisor seats are up for election. The 5th district, home to the largest chunk of the county’s Armenian population, has an Armenian candidate vying to replace the incumbent. Unfortunately, despite being a credible candidate who is already a Sierra Madre city council member, he does not have a good chance of getting elected. But keep an eye on him in the future…
A special congressional election is being held in the 25th district (northern LA County) which is currently vacant. It, too, is a hot race with six each, Democratic and Republican, candidates running. If any one candidate gets 50-percent-plus-one of the votes, s/he would be elected. But given the large field, it’s highly unlikely to happen. What makes this race particularly interesting from an Armenian perspective is that Cenk Uygur, host of “The Young Turks” talk show, is also a candidate on the Democratic side. It’s really important he NOT place first or second and thereby make it into in the runoff election. The most viable other Democratic candidate is Christy Smith, so please vote for her if your political bent is on the Democratic side. We can sort out who to vote for in the runoff in November.
Perhaps the most interesting race, from the perspective of novelty to our community is Elen Asatryan’s bid for Democratic County Central Committee from the 43rd Assembly District. You’ve probably never even heard of this position, especially if you are not registered Democratic. But seven people get elected to this position every two years. Their most impactful responsibility is voting on who the party endorses among Democratic candidates, so it really matters who these people are. But since they are important, understandably, people in power within the party have wanted limited attention so their favored people would get in. You can help improve Armenian political presence and power on the Democratic side of things by voting for Asatryan. You can do so if you are registered Democratic or even “No Party Preference.” In the latter case, you must request a Democratic party ballot.
This has been a lot of nitty gritty. Most important is that you VOTE!