You press the “submit” button on the tablet inside the voting booth.

Your completed ballot slides into the box, the LED light illuminated bright green. Then it’s gone. 

The average voter’s part in the play ends after donning their “I Voted’’ sticker, but their ballot’s evening has just begun.

After submission, when polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Vote Center workers collected, counted and carried cast ballots to a checking center nearby. Checking centers — regional hubs — collected ballots from nearby Vote Centers en route to their final destination. From the checking center, ballots were handed off to the LA County Sheriff’s Department for delivery to the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RRCC) headquarters in Downey. Then the real counting began.

If you cast a ballot in Santa Monica, that same paper ballot you fed into the voting booth flew in a helicopter to its final destination. If you happened to vote on Catalina Island, those ballots braved rough seas in a powerboat to Marina Del Rey before entering an LASD patrol vehicle to reach the final destination. Other planned helicopter trips were canceled in favor of road transportation, including from farther-flung areas of the county like Santa Clarita and Lancaster, thanks to heavy rainstorms throughout the evening on Election Night.

Inclement weather may well have had a dampening effect on voter turnout — it is too soon to tell — but heavy rain showers early in the morning on Election Day, again in the late afternoon and well into the evening hours did not materially affect operations at LA County Vote Centers.

It was also impossible to gauge whether an erroneous Emergency Alert issued by the National Weather Service may have made some last-minute voters think twice about casting ballots Tuesday.

At 3:57 p.m. on Tuesday, the Los Angeles NWS office issued a sweeping emergency alert pinging millions of cell phones around LA County: “National Weather Service: A FLASH FLOOD WARNING is in effect for this area until 4:45 PM PST. This is a dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.” 

About 35 minutes later, the NWS Los Angeles Twitter account sent out a notice retracting the emergency alert: “Apologies for the confusion over the Flash Flood Warning (FFW).  A glitch changed the small box for the area near the Fish Fire burn scar into all of LA County just as it was sent.  We cancelled it and sent the correct FFW for the small Fish burn scar as shown in the image.”

However, that notice was not issued universally to cell phones and, as of Wednesday morning, multiple news agencies including KTLA and Fox 11 still had stories on their websites declaring there had been a countywide flash flood alert Tuesday afternoon, apparently unaware of the retraction. On social media, scores of commenters complained that the error could suppress turnout and requested the NWS do more to publicize the retraction.

Santa Monica College Public Policy Institute Co-Director Shari Davis said she believed the alert likely had some negative effect on voter turnout.

“The errant Flash Flood Warning is very unfortunate. I’m certain it deterred some voters from casting their ballots, perhaps because that was the only time window in the day that was available to them,” Davis shared in an email with the Daily Press. “I was actually on the phone with someone when the Alert sounded, who decided to forego a doctor appointment because they wanted to take the warning seriously and not drive in the supposedly dangerous conditions.”

Davis said she expected the rain also resulted in lower turnout, especially since early numbers indicated many voters had chosen to wait until Election Day to cast ballots in person or deliver vote by mail ballots to drop boxes.

Flood warnings and downpours may have kept some people home, but fortunately floods themselves did not seem to materialize.

Santa Monica City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren said she was not aware of any flooding, downed trees, power outages or other issues relating to the weather. Nor was Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for the RRCC. 

“Election Day was fine,” Anderson-Warren said. “Even though it rained … it seemed as though there was a continual flow [of voters]. I’m sure there were highs after lunchtime and after work.” 

Warren said the City Clerk’s office had no estimate for local voter turnout and was not likely to have Santa Monica-specific data for several more days, but said election workers she spoke to reported consistent traffic throughout the day on Tuesday. The busiest Vote Centers in Santa Monica were at St. Anne’s Church and Roosevelt Elementary School.

Sanchez said the RRCC did not receive any reports of issues impeding operations at any Vote Centers due to Tuesday’s storm.

“There were some locations that were obviously more wet than others,” Sanchez said, “but nothing that would impact voting or prevent it from happening.”

Sanchez said this fall’s election went well with few issues.

“I think it went really well. We were able to open up all of our Vote Centers to serve voters throughout the county,” Sanchez said. “Right now, we’re focused on getting all of the outstanding ballots processed and added to the tally. We’re happy with yesterday’s activities and how it’s been processed and right now, as I mentioned, we’re starting the second half.”

Sanchez and the RRCC team was working throughout the day Wednesday to estimate the number of outstanding ballots, which in turn would be the first indication of total voter turnout for the 2022 midterm elections. 

Late Wednesday, his office reported the county had counted about 1.3 million ballots with another million outstanding. 

Additional mail ballots could continue to arrive this week but preliminary estimates put countywide voter turnout at about 41 percent. 

emily@smdp.com

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