Early voting in L.A. County

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imageLos Angeles County is the biggest and most diverse voting jurisdiction in the country with about 4.6 million registered voters. “We’re kind of an anomaly, we actually have more registered voters than close to 40 of the 50 states in the nation,” says Dean Logan, the LA County Registrar-Recorder. His office in Norwalk oversees all of the voting in LA County.

California is one of only 32 states that offer early voting and Norwalk is the only place in LA County where voters can cast their ballots early. LA County used to have about 15 sites for early voting until concerns were raised about the security of the touch-screen computer systems that voters used there.

So in the 2008 election early voting was limited to just one location. Voters who come in early no longer vote on a computer, they just fill out a paper form like they would if they were voting by mail.

Voters cast their ballots early for a variety of reasons.

“We’ll actually be out of town,” said Cindy Tamae.

“I won’t be in town,” said Gene Rice.

“Well, I had an absentee ballot and I kind of messed it up so I had to come in to get another one so I just voted while I was here,” said Richard Davis.

Logan says, of the voters who show up early to vote,”It’s a pretty broad cross-section of our electorate.”image

And even though the groups that come to vote early are diverse in terms of age, ethnicity and political opinions, there is one major trend.

“The people who would go to early voting locations are pretty consistent voters,” says Logan.

He says early voters are the kind of people who will find a way to vote no matter what the options are. And election-to-election, those options change.

“I do think we have to pay attention to changing voter behaviors. I think the public in general has higher expectations and the future generations have higher expectations of there being options for voting. So I don’t think the future holds one specific manner of voting,” Logan said.

Whichever method voters choose to get their vote out, Logan says he expects a strong turnout this year and voters have many reasons for getting to the polls.

“It’s a priority in terms of this election and making sure that the other propositions that are out, that I have a say,” said Veronica Williams.

“It’s a presidential election, you have to vote to be counted,” said Rice.

About 2,500 people have already come to Norwalk to vote early. Logan says that number will probably pick up this weekend and next weekend. The Norwalk early voting station will be open every day through November 6th.

Click here for the LA County of Registrar-Recorder’s website.

New wellness center opens at Jefferson High


Jefferson High School celebrated a new addition Thursday. The newest building at the end of the athletic field looks like most of the others on the school’s campus, but inside it looks like a doctor’s office.

“The health clinic that we have today, this will be something that the community will have involvement in, they can utilize the three different areas of service that we have here whether its physical health or mental health or dental health. Our students will be able to take advantage of that as well during the school day or after school,” says Michael Taft, the principal of Jefferson.

Until now, the school just had a nurse to help their 2,000 students with health issues, but over the last five years they have been planning with LAUSD and the South Central Family Health Center to expand their services. They will now be able to offer much needed preventive health care services, STD checks, and help for chronic issues like asthma and diabetes.

The new health clinic at Jefferson is one of 15 wellness centers that LAUSD will be opening on school campuses this year.

Rene Gonzalez, executive director for health and human services at LAUSD helped organize the project. He says, “We believe that in order to make a difference in the health of children, we have to make a difference in the health of the community.”

All of the new health centers will be located in areas with high health risks and low access to healthcare and will provide services not just to students, but to community members as well.

LAUSD used $ 34 million from a voter-approved fund to pay for the construction of the new health centers. Operation costs will be covered by other community organizations. The South Central Family Heath Center partnered with LAUSD for Jefferson’s new clinic.

“We can compete with anyone in terms of quality,” says South Central Family Health Clinic CEO, Richard Veloz. “We have a sliding fee scale – not for the students – but for anyone else in the community there’s a sliding fee scale if they don’t have insurance. But we accept all insurances,” and for students of Jefferson High seeking healthcare, Veloz says, “No cost.”

The next new health center on a school campus will open at Carson High School.

Parents and teachers vent frustration at Head Start schools in South LA and Compton

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“Can you tell me your name?”
“Ke-lonze James.”
“How old are you Ke-Lonze?”
“And what do you like better: going to school or going to work with your mom?”
“Going to work.”

imageKe-Lonze used to be a student at a Head Start preschool in Compton. But this year, things are a little different. His school is one of 21 schools in South LA that are under new management this year.

Head Start is a federal program, but at the local level it is run by other agencies. In June two organizations, Crystal Stairs and Volunteers of America took over South LA’s Head Start programs.

Parents expected their kids to start school in late August, but weeks later, a lot of schools still haven’t opened. Ke-Lonze’s school is open, but his mom, Takisha Collins says that because of limited staff and regulation changes at her son’s school, she now has to take him to work with her instead of leaving him there.

“I have no other options,” she says. He likes it, but Collins, a single mom with a full-time job, feels differently, “He bugs me the whole time, the whole eight hours he bugs me, so it’s hard.”

Today, Collins and her son weren’t at school or work, they were riding a bus around Compton with several other community members protesting the changes to the Head Start program.

The delayed start to the school year and sudden change in policies are not the only complaints the group has. For many, the biggest issue is that most of the teachers have been fired or replaced.

Pastora Alvarez-Munroa, who worked at Willowbrook Head Start in Compton until last year, said, “I received a letter through the mail after 29 years of service. It’s a slap in the face. We want our jobs back. We want to go back and work with the family and the community.”

Alvarez-Monroa came out today with other teachers, union organizers, parents, and community leaders to show her frustration with Head Start.

Volunteers of America in LA did not return our call, but the group’s organizer, Orlando Ward, told KPCC that his organization is asking parents to be patient while the schools transition to new management.

But the parents and community members at today’s event want Head Start to know that they’re not happy. Ke-Lonze’s mom, Takisha Collins said, “I just hope everything can go back to normal.”

Collins’ employer has told her she can’t keep bringing Ke-Lonze with her to work. So like many parents in the community, she hopes he can get back to school soon.

Free health care clinic in South LA attracts thousands

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About 4,800 people are expected to pass through the LA Sports Arena this weekend to get health care for free. This is the fourth year that Care Harbor has held its free health clinic there. Doctors from around LA are volunteering their time to see patients who otherwise couldn’t pay for medical attention.

Two of the most popular stops at Care Harbor are the ones that often don’t get covered by insurers: the vision and dental care stations. “It went alright, they didn’t bring the crown machine, they say they’re only doing crowns on the front teeth and my crown is for my first molar, so they couldn’t put no crown on my tooth,” said Jamon Potts. He waited almost six hours to get a wristband to come to today’s clinic. Even though he didn’t get what he came for, he said it was still worth it.

Patient Stephanie Johnson rearranged her schedule to get to the clinic today. She agrees. “I really like this. I really think it’s a good thing that they’re doing, because there’s a lot of us that can’t get no medicare or health plan. I really think they’re doing a good job. Matter of fact, if it is long, I’m not even saying it’s long because I appreciate the time they take. I’m just sitting here enjoying it.”

With election season approaching, Care Harbor is using this year’s clinic to spread the word about the Affordable Care Act, letting patients know that by 2014 they can expect to have access to healthcare.
Even at today’s event, where healthcare insurance is major topic, opinions on the issue are split.

Volunteer Dentist Younes Safa said, “I’m not for universal healthcare, I think primarily the healthcare issue is a job issue. If you can get people jobs then they can get their own insurance to their liking then that’s the way to go.”

Potts, who lost his healthcare when he resigned from his job, disagrees, “Everyone should have healthcare for free, you know what I mean, really, truthfully.”

Organizers expect to treat about 1,000 more patients this year than they saw last year, but that is still only a fraction of the estimated two-million people living without health insurance in Los Angeles.