A ballot box in Baldwin Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Redondo Union High School

Torrance city council accused of suppressing voters’ rights

Despite a growing number of COVID-19 cases, on Sept. 15 the Torrance City Council decided to permit only one vote-by-mail dropbox for the city, sparking concern that citizens’ right to vote was being restricted. Before this decision was made, Torrance was one of the only cities in Los Angeles without any mail-in drop boxes at all.

Torrance city council member Heidi Ashcraft said the council was hesitant to permit the five ballot boxes that Los Angeles County proposed due to possible vandalism, drop boxes needing to be cemented in place and the drop boxes not being able to be staffed. 

“Initially, we were told these drop boxes would stand for a minimum of five years,” Ashcraft said. “I was against that because [the boxes would] not be washed over, not manned, and not picked up daily.” 

The issue regarding the dropbox number was originally not even set to be decided by the council, but by the city clerk and the county. The reason the issue came to the city council was that the vote boxes are to be permanently set in cement, which becomes a land issue. 

Previously, her council had decided on several locations to hold in-person voting throughout the city, such as libraries, the City Hall and the city clerk’s office, according to Ashcraft. The difference between these voting locations and the drop boxes is that they were not outside and they were staffed with city employees.

Regarding COVID-19’s influence on the council’s final vote, they still collectively agreed that a single dropbox was enough for citizens of Torrance to submit their vote.

“The interesting thing about the vote box is that you cannot put your ballot in it without touching it,” Ashcraft said. “It’s not made so that you can submit your ballot without touching it, which makes no sense to me.” 

Although Ashcraft said that she is unaware of activist groups such as Torrance for Justice, who fight towards social justice issues such as the dropbox number in their community, she does not see them having an influence on the council’s decision. 

“The ballots are out and in places all around the South Bay, and anybody can take their ballot and drop it anywhere in LA County if they have to,” Ashcraft said. “We’re not going to be changing anything at this point.”

Torrance city council member Tim Goodrich expressed his support for the recommended five drop boxes. Goodrich said that he pushed the council to revisit the issue after the council initially voted to not have any drop boxes in the city. 

With voting changing so much due to the elimination of neighborhood polling locations and concerns about the postal system, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for people to vote,” Goodrich said. 

Although there are ten in-person voting stations in Torrance, according to Goodrich, the suggested dropbox number would have provided a “safe and secure option” for those who would prefer voting by mail and not in person. 

I don’t know why some council members voted against the County’s recommendation, especially when 87 of the other 88 LA County cities supported ballot boxes,” Goodrich said.

The county addressed the issue of dropbox vandalism in their contract language and “would have fixed any issues within 48 hours.” Additionally, vandalism was never raised as an issue in regard to the city library book drop-offs or the US Mailboxes on street corners, according to Goodrich. 

Along with concerns about the functioning of the postal system during the election, Goodrich said the pandemic also played a role in his decision.

“With people concerned about the postal system [not functioning as needed during the election] and also not wanting to vote in person, ballot boxes make sense as an option to allow people to vote safely and securely,” Goodrich said. “I would have supported the ballot boxes even without the pandemic; five ballot boxes in a 21 square mile city is reasonable.” 

Torrance for Justice has made efforts to protest against this decision. Cristina Varro, a member of Torrance for Justice, said that the group wanted five total drop boxes, one for each zip code, because of the “unfair disadvantage” it puts those who do not have access to reliable transportation. 

“What makes drop boxes significant is their safety and accessibility. Those who do not want to expose themselves to others while voting during the pandemic have the right to do so,” Varro said. “Although those people could also use the USPS, there is a lot of mistrust in their reliability.”

These boxes are picked up by two county employees weekly or two to three times a week, depending on how fast they may fill up and will be delivered straight to the county, according to Varro. She does not believe that vandalism is a valid reason to prohibit the distribution of more drop boxes. 

“Aesthetics are not a good excuse to minimize voting options,” Varro said. “The city council should not be rejecting resources for its citizens.”

According to Varro, the drop boxes were paid for before the issue of the boxes had reached the council around Aug. 25. She said that although they may not be necessary to all, “they are necessary to some and that is enough reason to have them.

“I do not understand why members in city council are so against having more accessible voting options,” Varro said. “The effect of these boxes is only positive, and it is wrong to reject a resource that this city already has paid for.”                                           

Varro became a member of Torrance for Justice during the height of the protests this past summer. She said she always noticed the “inequities” people of color faced and how she, a White Latina, and her brother were treated differently by not only police but also by other residents of Torrance.

“For a long time, I felt like there was nothing I could do about the racist acts happening around me on my own, but then I found Torrance for Justice,” Varro said. “When Torrance for Justice formed, I realized there are more like-minded individuals like me who wanted to make a real change in the city and suddenly everything seemed possible.” 

Varro is “proud” to be a part of a group that serves the “underserved” in her community. 

“Torrance for Justice is important to me because we fight for social justice and we fight for those who are underrepresented in our community,” Varro said. “It is important to me to help uplift those voices and make sure everyone in Torrance has their needs met.”