Voting with the 1%

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Peter Bohler for TIME

For the seven years I’ve lived in L.A., I thought it was rustic and warm that I voted in the living room of the ranger’s house in Griffith Park. Then I realized I didn’t move to L.A. to be rustic and warm; I moved here to be rich and famous and not have to deal with people who are lowly park rangers.

That’s when I found out that I live in the wrong part of L.A. In Bel Air, citizens in two precincts vote at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, which provides free valet parking, hors d’oeuvres, wi‑fi, election coverage on two flat-screen TVs and a voting butler. I made up the voting-butler part, but I’m sure if I ask for one, they’ll provide it.

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Since economic inequality was such a big theme of the campaign, I figured it was my responsibility to see how the 1% voted. Sure, the Founding Fathers created Election Day so all our voices would be equal, but I think those guys would have wanted to throw in a little something special for the white land­owning males who live in Bel Air.

I got to the Luxe at 7:30 a.m. and handed over the keys to my Mini Cooper. Men in crisp suits directed me to the buffet, where I grabbed a cup of tea, a pain au chocolat and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. There was no line to vote in the ballroom, where the hotel had hired real old people dressed in real old-people clothes to make the experience more Norman Rockwell. When I spoke to the actors, however, I discovered that they were actual old people who had volunteered. Inspector Len Harris, who wore a stylish fedora, was signing a letter to the hotel’s management, asking it to host the next election. “I’ve worked mostly in churches or community centers,” he said. “This is the best. None of the other places served a continental breakfast.” Clerk Jan Honoré was equally impressed. “It’s so wonderfully American for a place like this to share. I’m sure it’s sound business, but it’s also beautiful, beautiful patriotism,” she said. After an hour in Bel Air, I was no longer seeing how those could be different things.

I headed to the hotel’s Election Media Room — or more accurately, the Joel Stein and for a Brief Time Some Freelance AP Photographer Room — to organize my meals. At noon, I ate from the to-go box of Chinese chicken salad and ­considered waiting for dinner when chef Olivier Rousselle, a Parisian wearing an ­American-flag pin, told me he was working on tuna tartare. You know what they get when they vote in France? Socialism.

Needing a break from all my eating, I took a golf cart uphill to check out the hotel’s sizable property. I considered getting a bio-organic facial at the spa — or at least finding out what any of those words meant — but was drawn back to the lobby for the smoked-salmon and cucumber finger sandwiches. Voters sat at tables just outside the hotel restaurant, eating their free lunch and talking about the election. Harrison Ford walked by with his i voted sticker, and I was proud to live in a country where people who have played the President in action movies get special voting privileges.

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I talked to Fallon James, a pretty architect who is somehow not a soap opera character, to find out if rich voters feel differently about free stuff than the rest of us. She was happy with her voting experience, but Dr. Eliot Siegel, who was wearing scrubs and yet was also not a soap opera character, said he missed the park where he used to vote. “I’m a Republican, but I believe in social equality,” he said. “Wealthy people shouldn’t do this. It’s not a good way to present themselves.” Though, it turned out, not as bad a way for wealthy people to present themselves as Mitt Romney.

Efrem Harkham, the owner of the hotel, said that he was just being neighborly and that a good neighbor offers his guests a drink. And in Bel Air, a neighbor has to step it up a bit. Mitt Romney might think the 47% are entitled, but no one expects free stuff as much as superrich people. If in­equality in our country keeps growing, by 2016 the Luxe is going to have to give out free hotels on Park Place.

On my way out, as I worried about our country and ate a freshly baked cookie, I ran into Laura C. Medina, who lives in an apartment in nearby Brentwood. She had gone to the Luxe just to drop off her vote-by-mail ballot. “If people did this more often and treated you right instead of making you come to some grungy place and wait for hours in line, more people would come out to vote,” she said. Medina told me her mom, who voted in Goose Creek, S.C., had such a miserable, non-Luxe experience, waiting three hours and getting yelled at, that she’s considering never voting again.

After I left, I stopped by the polling place for the people who live in less expensive homes near my neighborhood: a McDonald’s Play Place. Compared with the Luxe, there was no incentive to vote. No one parked my car, the view left a lot to be desired, and the bathroom urinals weren’t lined with large, polished stones. Plus I drank a very disappointing peppermint mocha latte. Even worse, it wasn’t free.

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