By Juliet Bennett Rylah
HOLLYWOOD — Election Day saw a steady trickle of morning voters at prominent venues including the Palladium, the Pantages Theatre and the Magic Castle, juxtaposed with boarded-up shops along Hollywood and Sunset boulevards.
It was perhaps one of the strangest elections in modern history, as voters wearing face masks vigorously rubbed hand sanitizer on their hands before entering socially distanced polling centers. Meanwhile, the sound of power tools echoed as crews boarded up businesses alongside — including Target, Walgreens, and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum — that had already been fortified with plywood. According to a security guard who asked to remain anonymous, store owners were taking precautions in the event of civil unrest on election night. A barista at one boarded-up but open shop said preparations were the property owner’s decision, but he wasn’t sure “the war-time optics are a good look.”
Despite the precautions, Hollywood was calm while the mood among voters ranged from “hopeful” to “despair.”
The Palladium was the slowest of the three venues. According to volunteer Cole Maness, volunteers at the concert venue saw a line of about 10 people when the polls first opened, but it soon petered out. The low in-person turnout could be attributed to the over 11.2 million California residents who voted early.
Maness said he decided to volunteer because most of the poll workers he encountered in past elections were seniors, who are among the most at-risk for serious COVID-19 complications.
“I felt like this was not the year for Grandma and Grandpa to be sitting in the booth,” he said. “It’s been fun. I’ve met people that I’d have probably never met outside of this.”
Stella Chung was one of the few Palladium voters who trickled in, saying that while she’s always voted, she felt there was a lot at stake this year.
“It’s kind of hard to think past what America will look like after today or after all the votes are counted, but I’m thankful that there are people organizing who are ready to tackle, no matter which way it goes. It’s nice to see people more politicized, but I do wish people had always been this way,” she said.
Though “Hamilton’s” run at the Pantages was canceled due to COVID-19, the theater welcomed voters with selections from the musical and a special “Hamilton”-themed “I Voted” sticker. Disaster service workers from the city of Los Angeles in pale pink jumpsuits filled in for older volunteers who could not assist this year due to COVID-19 risks. According to one of the workers, Sebastian Nowak, about 1,000 voters came over the weekend, more than 600 of them Oct. 30.
Tuesday’s voters included Jonathan Uttenreither, who said he was feeling despair. Though he identifies as a leftist, he wasn’t a fan of either presidential candidate.
“Even the ones who are supposed to be progressive champions are pretty much pushing the same establishment narratives as the rest,” he said.
Uttenreither was more excited about the local races, hoping to see Jackie Lacey voted out as district attorney. Lacey is campaigning for a third term against former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.
One couple, who wanted to remain anonymous, was voting for the first time. One of them said she hadn’t realized she wasn’t registered the last time she went to vote, while the other said voting had never been big in his household growing up.
“But it just seemed like this election was different from previous ones and the anticipation was building up. I actually registered today,” he said.
Wade Davis, on the other hand, said he’s always liked voting and exercising his right.
“It’s something that my ancestors died for,” he said.
His biggest hope for this election is that the “country starts to become a nation.”
“I think we’ve yet to understand what does it really take and what does it mean to become a nation that doesn’t just worry about the individual, but worries about us as a collective,” he said. “And how do individual neighborhoods in California become a community? I still think even in a state like California that sees themselves as very liberal and progressive, we’re still not really a community [that] looks out for each other and honors the social contract.”
On Hollywood Boulevard, Cora Wendt was tabling with Sunrise Movement Los Angeles, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting climate change, for Los Angeles City Council District 4 candidate Nithya Raman, who is seeking to unseat incumbent David Ryu.
Wendt has spent the last two months organizing phone banks and tabling and volunteered during the 2018 midterms.
“I think after the 2016 election, nationally, I regretted not being more involved and I wanted to do something different this time,” she said. “I’ve been really happy to get involved with local politics this year because it feels like you can have a much greater impact and have bigger wins on a local level.”
Further west, the Magic Castle was also slow, though volunteers estimated that the voting center has attracted about 150 voters daily.
Jennifer S. was casting her ballot with a co-worker “to preserve democracy and women’s rights and voting rights.
“I’m hoping Trump gets out of office and we flip the Senate and add some Supreme Court seats,” she said.
The pair were split on Proposition 22, which would classify gig-based app workers as independent contractors and not employees. Jennifer’s co-worker voted no on Prop. 22 because she empathized with her friends who worked for apps, while Jennifer said, “I’m very pro-union but I don’t want to be able to not have an Uber, so I had to vote for Prop. 22.”
Victor Ujah, who voted at the Magic Castle with his girlfriend, was also the most invested in Prop. 22, but for a different reason. Ujah said he’s driven for rideshare apps for 4-5 years to supplement his work as a musician.
“I’ve always felt a certain type of way that someone could put that kind of energy into something and not get any kind of benefits,” he said. “I’d been swayed back and forth because they threw a little carrot —‘we’ll give you this much if you drive this much’— but they’ve done that before and I think it’s time for that to change,” he said.
As far as the rest of the election goes, he said, “I”m excited it’s over. I’m scared for tonight. In the last election, we thought it was going to go another way and it went in a completely different direction that made me lose hope in the whole process. But I have very supportive friends who reminded me that it still counts.”
Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.