Fill-in-the-Blank Ballot May Boost Re-election Effort

by Howard Fine

Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill's quixotic bid to win a third term through a write-in campaign may get an unexpected boost: a new voting method for the city complete with pencils.

Thanks to the Florida election fiasco, the Long Beach City Clerk's office late last year decided to upgrade the city's punch-card voting system with a newer optical scanning system. The voter gets a ballot filled with little circles and must fill in those circles with a No. 2 pencil or a black pen, much like those scholastic achievement tests taken by high school students. The ballots are then read by machine.

Such a voting system can be a tremendous boost to a write-in candidate like O'Neill, simply because every voter must already use a pen or pencil to cast their votes.

The decision to switch to these machines didn't require a City Council vote, although it did come up for discussion after the fact. Seems O'Neill's mayoral opponents on the council, Dan Baker and Ray Grabinski, had some questions about the deal.

Chief Deputy City Clerk Becky Burleson said the optical scanning system was chosen because it's much less expensive and requires much less maintenance than touch-screen voting machines.

And O'Neill campaign spokeswoman Diane Jacobus said the optical scanning machines may not help O'Neill much anyway. "With these machines, you just can't write in a name like you could on the old ballots," Jacobus said. "You also have to completely fill in the circle on the ballot indicating you're choosing to write in a candidate. Otherwise, the ballot won't even be looked at. I'm sure there will be several people who will write in the name but will forget to fill in the circle."

Business Friendliness

Last week, L.A. Mayor James Hahn announced two initiatives aimed at making the city more business friendly. He officially introduced the Department of Building and Safety's online permitting system, which has been up and running on a test basis for several months. And he announced a plan to boost city assistance to business improvement districts.

"These measures are way overdue, especially the BID assistance," said Larry Kosmont, an L.A.-based economic development consultant.

Redistricting Compromise?

After three months in limbo, it appears that L.A. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter may not have to represent the San Fernando Valley instead of her Westside home after all.

In a bid to move Galanter's Westside district to the Valley without actually displacing Galanter herself, the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission is considering extending the effective date of redistricting out one year, from July 1, 2002 to July 1, 2003. Galanter's term expires on June 30, 2003.

The commission has scheduled a final vote on the redistricting proposal for March 26; the plan then goes to the City Council itself, which has the final word.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or by e-mail at

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