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Security could intimidate, so Sinai Temple moves polling places outdoors

by Jonah Lowenfeld

November 6, 2012 | 1:11 pm

Responding to concerns of potential voter intimidation, Sinai Temple moved their polling place outdoors on election day. Photos by Jonah Lowenfeld

Responding to concerns of potential voter intimidation, Sinai Temple moved their polling place outdoors on election day. Photos by Jonah Lowenfeld

Polling places often move around from year to year, but normally not on Election Day itself, as happened to the polls at Sinai Temple this year.

On Nov. 6, when the day began, 14 booths were positioned inside the West Coast’s largest and oldest Conservative synagogue. But after two trained volunteers, working with Election Protection, a nonpartisan election-monitoring organization, reported that the synagogue’s security guards were, as they do every day, using metal detector wands to screen each person entering the building, poll workers relocated the booths to a fenced-in courtyard outside the Temple, just off Wilshire Boulevard.

“It can be intimidating,” said Brian Link, one of the volunteers, said, explaining why the polling places had to be moved to comply with election law.

A second volunteer, Melody Chen, in 2008 had volunteered with Election Protection in Charlotte, N.C. She staffed a hotline that year, similar to one she and Link called Tuesday morning to report security procedures at Sinai Temple.

In North Carolina four years ago, Chen said, “there was one polling place where every African-American voter was told that their registration was not valid.

“It just blows your mind, in this day and age,” she added.

Nobody appears to have been turned away from the polls at Sinai Temple, Link said, but there was a bit of commotion when one voter set off the metal detector.

The offending item: a pocketknife.

“It got a little weird,” Link said, noting that it took some consultation with multiple members of the security personnel before the voter was allowed to enter. “But it all turned out OK.”

Moving the polls out of doors required some flexibility on the part of voters. Voters in wheelchairs had to be dropped off on a side street and then transported along the sidewalk into the polling place; once inside the fenced-in area, they had limited room to maneuver, leading one older man to consider casting a provisional ballot at one station because the pathway to the other was a bit cramped. He eventually cast his ballot at his designated polling place.

A few synagogue security guards were positioned outside the polling place; others were seen carrying walkers for handicapped voters, and they appeared to be cooperating with election workers.

Around 11 a.m., Tommy Brown, a 14-year veteran staff member with the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder, was affixing additional signs directing voters away from the synagogue’s main entrance on Beverly Glen and toward the relocated polling station around the corner. He said he would position lights and portable heaters near the tables to insure the six volunteers monitoring polls wouldn’t get too cold after nightfall.

Sinai

Tommy Brown, who works for the Los Angeles County registrar, was assigned to redirect voters to the relocated polling place at Sinai Temple on Nov. 6.

“If anybody’s not comfortable, we’ll probably bring out some County workers to man the polls,” Brown said.

But on this unseasonably warm Election Day morning, shaded from the sun by the large synagogue building, voters didn’t seem to notice – or care about -- the change in location.

Walter Dishell, a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple who came with his wife and daughter to the polls, remembered that the polling places had been inside the Sinai Temple building the year before.

A Republican, Dishell downplayed any intimidation a security measure might cause.

“That wouldn’t have bothered me, and I’m more than willing to show my license,” said Dishell, referring to new laws being passed in some states requiring voters to show a valid photo ID in order to vote. Republicans advocate such laws as a way to combat voter fraud; Democrats see such measures as potentially disenfranchising low-income and elderly voters who may be less likely to have photo ID.

“I just heard my daughter say that they still had the woman who lived in the apartment before her on the voter rolls,” Dishell added. “She hasn’t lived there for seven years. That concerns me.”

But the voters out at the polls – Dishell included – seemed rather cheerful, even if they didn’t know how the election would turn out.

“I’m standing here, and I’m just as uncertain as I’ve been for the last few days,” Ronald Leibow said shortly after casting his ballot. “If I had to put a penny on one side of the line or the other, I’m assuming Obama will win, but if it goes the other way, I won’t be surprised.”

Moments after Leibow left the courtyard, a class of 19 four-year-olds from Sinai Akiba walked in. Their three teachers had escorted them out the door of the building and around the corner in order to view the polling place.

The kids had conducted a mock election in their classroom earlier in the day, one of the teachers said.

“Oreos or Chips Ahoy,” she said. “I don’t know who won. We haven’t counted the votes yet.” 

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