Polling Place Profile
Calif. polling places require a land-sea approach for access
Twenty-two miles south-southwest of Los Angeles lie four of Los Angeles County’s most unique polling places.
While the buildings that house the polling places aren’t particularly unique as far as polling places go — two churches, a courthouse and a restaurant — what makes them special is their location.
The polling places are located on Santa Catalina Island — just Catalina to most of us — and that 22-mile distance from Los Angeles? That’s 22 miles of water that leaves the island only accessible by air or sea.
With the island accessible only by air or sea, getting voting machines to and from and ballots back and forth on election day has required a lot of logistics, good weather and the support of the county sheriff’s department.
“For the past 30 plus years, the county has been supported by the sheriff's department to transport ballots from Catalina Island via watercraft or aircraft depending on weather conditions,” explained Adolfo Gonzalez, assistant division manager for the county’s registrar-recorder/county clerk. “Historically, ballots have been delivered either to Long Beach-Rainbow Harbor or Marina Del Rey.”
Catalina is home to less than 4,000 people with the bulk of the population (3,728) living in the island’s only incorporated town of Avalon. Another couple hundred live in unincorporated Two Harbors with the remainder scattered throughout the island.
During the most recent election—the June 5 primary—the polling places served a combined 1,798 voters.
Because electronic voting machines are not certified in Los Angeles County, all the ballots must be transported back to the mainland once the polls close.
“We coordinate with the sheriff’s department and determine ahead of time which transportation method to use,” Gonzales explained. “Watercraft has proven to be the best choice overall since bad weather can ground a helicopter flight; however, in bad weather a watercraft can still travel at a slower speed and the ballots can still arrive and be counted.”
The final decision to use the transportation method is made by the registrar-recorder’s office and is confirmed by the sheriff’s department three weeks prior to an election.
Gonzales said they have never encountered such severe weather that prevented the transport of ballots from Catalina to the mainland either by boat or helicopter.
For the June election, the Avalon sheriff’s station used its own boat to transport the ballots from Avalon Harbor to Marina Del Rey where another sheriff’s deputy was standing by waiting for the ballots. The ballots were then taken to the county’s tally headquarters.
And of course it’s not just the ballots that need to get to and from the island, but also all the voting equipment and other sundries that are required an election. Just like the ballots, those too are literally shipped over.
“The voting machines are stored between elections at the recorder-registrar/county clerk’s Election Operations Center,” Gonzales explained. “All voting machines and supply tubs containing ballots are transported to Catalina one week prior to an election and returned to the Election Operations Center on the day after the election via a watercraft vehicle. “
Unfortunately, due to safety regulations, staff from the elections office is not permitted to ride with the ballots either via boat or helicopter.