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Permit Parking Vote-Count Fiasco

February 22, 2009. Venice—Never mind that 1,506 Venetians turned out to vote, yesterday’s plebiscite on whether permit parking should come to the area could be thrown out due to alleged improprieties in the counting of ballots.

According to Laddie Williams, a previous officer of the neighborhood council who stayed to watch the vote-count, rather than do so on-site immediately after the election--as previously agreed to--a neighborhood council official chose to send the ballots home in the custody of a colleague and for the count to continue today (Sunday). Williams told VenicePaper that the ballot box had already been unsealed at that point.

Williams’ version of the events was supported by community organizer Marta Evry, who unlike Williams was not present, but had been forwarded information secondhand. According to Evry, ballots were actually counted but not tallied.

Both women said that the decision to stop the proceedings was made by the presiding official because he was, they said, too tired to continue. According to both women, volunteers were ready and eager to proceed even if he wasn’t. The incident happened prior to 7pm when Williams first e-mailed VenicePaper. Though both women are known for their community organizing skills, they have rarely seen eye to eye on issues. Yet they both individually told VenicePaper that they questioned whether the final results could stand.

Though Williams blamed the onsite official, Evry also noted that Mike Newhouse the neighborhood council president had not stayed to watch or help count votes on an issue critical to Venetians but was said to support the decision to halt last night’s count.

Newhouse has frequently taken a city councilman-like position that it’s the responsibility of constituents to present him with their issues rather than proactively identifying problems ahead of time and working for Venetians to solve them. That attitude has come to symbolize his tenure as president.

Newhouse’s lack of attendance last night was contrasted by that of Dede Audet, a previous neighborhood council president, who—though well into her eighties—remained at the library after the last vote was cast yesterday. According to Williams, Audet argued that the count should be finished last night.

Both Williams and Evry said there was time to count the votes last night, on site. “I seem to recall we counted over 1,200 votes in 2005 in only a few hours,” Evry told VenicePaper. Evry also claimed that volunteers and neighborhood council members were so determined to provide a vote tally the same night of another election that after the polling place, Oakwood Recreation Center had closed, volunteers and observers finished it in a Mexican restaurant.

But, according to Evry, yesterday “[Newhouse] didn't think Ivan and crew should have been up until 1 [a.m.] counting ballots while angry stakeholders circled around.”

Earlier in the day, Newhouse had told reporter Michael Linder that the decision to have an extremely short window to vote—from 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.—was to accommodate volunteer poll workers on tight schedules. Williams, however, gave those volunteers high marks for working under difficult circumstances, being willing to continue till late into the night to count and attempting to work on behalf of their fellow Venetians.

Reporter Michael Linder covers the vote and the permit parking issue at www.linder.com Linder who for years provided KNX news radio's most thorough and compelling pieces starts his reportage of the vote with the following: “Best fledgling democracy this side of Baghdad” quipped a resident after his first voting encounter with Venice Neighborhood Council. That Linder is up and running here in Venice is a nice consolation in a time that good media work is declining everywhere.
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