When I first started working on this post, I meant it to be a typical humorous take on a comment that Grayce Liu made at the March 20 meeting of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, much like the nonsense I wrote the other day.
But in preparation for mocking the arrogant rich white supremacists who turned out at every meeting about the SRNC to bumble their whiny way through their idiotic decontextualized lies about “outreach” and “voter participation” and “united Downtown” and fucking “inadequate notification,” I listened to a recording of the March 22 meeting of the Rules and Elections Committee, which sickened me to the point that I lost any taste for making jokes about any of this.1 Huizar’s behavior is not funny, and I’m in no state of mind to make fun.2 He is a horrible person.3
In particular, here’s what I learned. Much of this information has been published before, but as far as I can tell, not all of it has:
- Huizar decided to change the rules for the SRNC formation election to allow online voting. The change took place merely two weeks before voting began, even though he almost certainly had his mind made up weeks if not months earlier. If he had implemented the decision when he had made it at least there would have been time for the SRNC proponents to address this dispositive change in the rules.
- He did this in the face of explicit testimony that online voting would disadvantage homeless people, who have extremely limited internet access. Even worse, he knew that the online voting system to be used by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment would preregister more than 1000 DLANC and HCNC voters from 2016, thereby overwhelming any online voters that the SRNC-FC might manage to register in two weeks and thus dooming any SRNC-FC online registration effort to irrelevance.
- Huizar made this change unilaterally. It’s true that it was passed by the Rules and Elections Committee and then by the full Council, but if you listen to the recording.4 You will hear Huizar reading out his proposal and Herb Wesson pronouncing it adopted with neither discussion nor a vote.
- Huizar ignored all the warnings he heard against allowing online voting with respect to the SRNC, but he took them all into account for other NC elections by stating explicitly that SRNC would be the only election to use online voting until further notice. This proves yet again that as far as the City of Los Angeles is concerned, rules do not apply to poor people. They’re not usually this overt about it, though.
- Somehow Huizar allowed multiple polling locations distributed widely in both space and time. He did this in the face of Grayce Liu’s explicit statement that one polling place open for four hours is absolutely standard in NC elections. Again, Huizar unilaterally changed the rules for Skid Row.
Turn the page for the full, detailed story with links to and transcriptions of the audio of the meeting.
On January 12, 2017 Blair Besten of the Historic Core BID began arranging a meeting between Michael Delijani and Huizar to talk about the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort. Estela Lopez of the Downtown Industrial District BID was also involved in the discussion. At some point it occurred or was suggested to Huizar by one or more of the high-powered lobbyists hired to sink the SRNC that allowing online voting would be an effective way to do this. First of all, homeless people don’t have equal access to the internet,and secondly online voting would allow the power elite of Downtown to organize their minions to vote against the SRNC with minimal effort.
One problem with the plan, though, was that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment had tried online voting in neighborhood council elections in 2016 and had had enough problems that it was decided to suspend the online voting program until all the kinks could be worked out. But this wasn’t enough to stop Huizar. Thus on March 8, the Rules and Elections committee of the LA City Council, which presently consists of Huizar, Herb Wesson, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, held a hearing on the issue at which DONE was meant to report on online voting.5 For whatever reason no one from DONE showed up, so Huizar tabled the question.
On March 20, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners6 held a meeting at which online voting was discussed.7 At this meeting, Grayce Liu, executive director of DONE, made the following comment, which made it clear that as far as DONE was concerned, online voting for Skid Row was a fait accompli:
I also wanted to clarify too that the Department is ready to move on online voting for the Skid Row Neighborhood Council. We are just waiting at this point for City Council to take action to allow us to move forward.
You can listen to her here. The point, of course, is that she doesn’t say she’s waiting for City Council to decide if online voting will be allowed. She says she’s waiting for them to say it is allowed. She knows already they’re going to allow it, which means that Huizar had already decided to allow it. That he had so decided is certainly no surprise, especially given that Michael Delijani met with him in January to discuss the SRNC and certainly wasn’t in favor of it. Delijani, of course, has some sway with Huizar given that he and neighbors of his with the same last name have given Huizar more than $25,000 over the years.
If you follow Los Angeles City politics you’ll know that City Council members rarely if at all vote against one another’s express wishes for matters that are wholly confined to a single district. They do this as a favor for their colleagues so that their colleagues will do it for them.8 In this way they each essentially function as a dictator within their own Council districts. So Huizar certainly had the power to unilaterally decide that online voting would be allowed, and this is why it’s appalling but not surprising that, as Grayce Liu implied, the fix was already in.
What’s different about this case, perhaps, is that the whole process was done so openly, the script of the kabuki dance laid out for all to hear.9 The narrative climax of Huizar’s carefully scripted performance took place at the March 22 meeting of the Rules and Elections Committee.10 After 27 minutes of public comment, here’s what happened next:
29:40 — Huizar calls Grayce Liu up to the table to be questioned. He says that DONE has completed a report on how to implement online voting. He’s very careful, too careful, to make it clear that Council hasn’t yet decided what to do: “You have identified certain recommendations about how…if the Council so chooses, to move forward with online voting, should we move forward.” Remember that Grayce Liu already said two days before this that they were just waiting for the Council’s approval, not their decision.
30:34 — Now Huizar asks Grayce Liu about her opinion “as to whether we can move forward with online voting in Downtown with us assuring that it is transparent, practical, and reasonable for everyone involved.” Of course, it doesn’t make sense to say that online voting is transparent. What may or may not be transparent is the process by which the idea of online voting was arrived at, or the reasons why its supporters want online voting. And it makes as little sense to say it’s reasonable. The question that Huizar does not ask is whether it’s fair to change the voting system merely two weeks before the election in a way which will clearly disadvantage people who don’t have equal access to computers and in other ways which I’ll discuss below.
30:51 — Thus spake Grayce Liu: “I think wholeheartedly that online voting is going to be very beneficial to the subdivision vote for the Skid Row Neighborhood Council…” What does this even mean? Beneficial to the election? Elections don’t have interests so stuff isn’t beneficial to elections. Will online voting be beneficial to humans? Depends who they are, doesn’t it?
31:18 — “…because we are able to basically flip a switch and turn on the existing databases that were created for Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council and for Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. I know that some folks expressed concern regarding the process of voter registration. For us, the folks that already voted, the 847 people for Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council in the 2016 elections as well as the 194 people in Historic Cultural. They’re already preregistered and ready to vote. They will simply be emailed information on how to register online to get their user ID and password. They will not have to give us their documentation again to show that they are stakeholders.”
This is a real problem right here. Even if it were true that online voting were a good idea in the abstract, this particular round of online voting was initialized with more than 1000 voters who not only have internet access now but who had it in 2016. The chance is even smaller that any of the people in these two databases live in Skid Row than it is for an average online voter. The extra inequity is baked right into the process and neither Liu nor Huizar even talk about it. This is despite the fact that any number of the public comments mentioned this exact issue.
32:59 — Here Huizar asks Liu if there were any “hiccups” when they used online voting Downtown last year. Liu replies that the only hiccups there were had to do with voters providing adequate documentation of their eligibility during the registration process. Thus again, even if online voting were somehow abstractly fair, the problems with documentation will clearly, obviously disadvantage the homeless and the poor more than others and even more than they’re already disadvantaged by not having adequate access to the Internet.
It’s well-known that possession of adequate documentation is a constant problem for the homeless and the poor. This is why voter ID laws are so effective at disenfranchising poor people. And here we are in the 21st Century in a City that flatters itself about how progressive it is compared to who or whatever is the left’s bête noire du jour and a basic technique, slightly modified to be even more effective, invented in freaking Mississippi in freaking 1950, is being used for voter suppression and no one in power has a word to say about it.
34:43 — Now Huizar is going to pretend that he’s weighing both sides of the issue. He asks Grayce Liu if two weeks would be enough time to get everyone registered. Liu basically says that they will use computers to notify people who are “already tied into the Neighborhood Council system.” Of course, the problem here, the reason Skid Row wants its own NC, is that people who are “already tied into the Neighborhood Council system” don’t understand their needs and don’t care about them anyway. Huizar’s not going to go into it. He makes sure she gives the answer he needs even though nothing she’s said even implies this: “so you think two weeks is sufficient time?” She misses her cue and goes on about God knows what for God knows how long.
39:00 — Here’s where the mask comes off. Huizar: “I’m finished with my questions and unless there are other questions I’d like to…” Huizar knows there aren’t any other questions. This is his decision to make. Herb Wesson drives the point home: “I’d like to know, what are you gonna suggest to this committee?” Because of the way Councilmembers defer to one another, whatever Huizar suggests is what is going to happen.
39:10 — “Sure, well, I, look, have spoken to a number of stakeholders in Downtown who were thrilled that we were using online voting and although it didn’t work quite as well in other places, generally speaking most people [interruption to chastise some morons. Skip ahead to 40:13] So when we were doing online voting Downtown I think it was relatively successful, and it was an example of how we could continue to get more participation. And ultimately, that’s our goal. This committee itself has done several things to allow for Council elections to involve more people in different ways. For example we moved our elections to the general state election to have people not get as burdened by going back to the polls. And so one of our goals is how do we allow more people to vote. So I think here, for the sake of consistency, we should keep that. I am concerned, however, that this is late notice. That we’re two weeks before the election, we’re saying ‘hey, we’re gonna allow this.’ But if you go back to the people who have voted and DLANC and the Committee Forming Committee lets people know what the different options are, I think that would be OK. But my final question, before I make a recommendation, is for the day-of voting, how many stalls are there? How many polling places are there? Is there just one as we heard in the testimony?”
GL: That’s correct. In our typical elections there’s only one polling location, which is why online voting was piloted in the first place, so that we could provide greater options for folks who couldn’t come to the poll location. So the same has been applied in terms of equity, what we’ve done in the past. One location, it’s located within the forming neighborhood council boundaries, and it’s four hours and we can set up many different booths so that people can vote.
JH: But that’s typical of every neighborhood council election?
GL: That’s correct.
JH: One polling location, four hours. That’s what’s done every time?
GL: Four hours is a standard. We can extend if the neighborhood council requests, up to eight hours.
And finally, here is where the dirty deed is done. It’s clear from the audio that Huizar has started reading from a prepared statement. Thus he had already made his decision long before sitting through all this testimony. As I said above, it’s bad enough that he unilaterally imposed online voting on the SRNC, but that he imposed it only two weeks in advance of the election when he had obviously made up his mind much earlier is even worse.
JH: OK, thank you. So with that, Mr. Chair, I think that some people here have asked that we also postpone the election but, as you’ve heard, we can’t do that. It would just move it a couple a few days, which, I don’t think you’d get the type of additional outreach that we’d like to see by moving the election just a few days. But I would ask, my recommendation would be, that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the City Clerk be instructed and authorized to enable the online voting platform for the April 2017 neighborhood council subdivision election for the Downtown area. This should not change the existing suspension of online voting in any other area until we can further discuss the issues in DONE’s report and the factors that led to the suspension. Two, I would further move that we continue the associated Council file and recommendations listed in DONE’s report in committee for further discussion and evaluation. And three, to assist with that future discussion, I would like to instruct DONE to report to this committee with a recap of online voting for the April 2017 subdivision elections along with recommendations from that experience, if any.
HW: So then without objection that’ll be the order.
And the rest is history, and not in a good way.
Images are ©2017 MichaelKohlhaas.Org.
- If you came here for further foolishness, therefore, you’ll be disappointed by this post.
- I mean, at least for now, anyway.
- His fellow Councilmembers are also horrible, except for possibly Paul Krekorian, who voted against online voting for the SRNC when it came before the full Council. Krekorian is certainly horrible for other reasons, though. The whole lot of them are disgusting.
- Direct links below.
- You can listen to the meeting here. The comments are worth hearing.
- Which I would have thought oversees the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment which, in turn, oversees neighborhood councils. However, given recent developments, it’s not so clear to me who’s in charge.
- You can listen to that meeting here and read lowbrow but entertaining commentary on it as well.
- They call it “deference.” Scott Zwartz has a superficially unhinged but nevertheless entirely accurate description of how and why it functions.
- Or maybe it’s not different. Maybe this is just the first such episode I’ve paid enough attention to to let me see it happening.
- You can listen to straight audio here and I also put a video on YouTube so that I could link through to specific times, which doesn’t seem to be possible with Archive.Org audio. Unfortunately Council committee meetings are only audiotaped, not videotaped, so I had to just put a still picture as the video track. Please forgive.