New electronic equipment, and more polling places are just a few things making it easier to vote next year.
By Jerry Ough, Staff Writer
The way people in Los Angeles County have voted for the last half century has now changed in three fundamental ways which will modernize and expand how citizens can cast their ballots at the polls.
New ballot marking devices, voting centers and expanded days for voting will be made available county wide for the March 2020 California primary election. Voters will have 10 additional days prior to the election. There is no longer just one polling place available in a voter’s neighborhood. More than 4000 traditional polling places in L.A. County are being replaced by up to 1,000 voting centers available to any voter. The L.A. Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office will open 250 voting centers 10 days before election day and, by election day, registered voters will be able to walk in to any of the 1000 voting centers to cast ballots or take advantage of same-day registration.
The voting machines have also been modernized. Gone are the days of ink spots or punching holes in paper. Voters will be handed a blank ballot when they walk into a voting center. It is fed into a ballot marking device that prints out a plainly-worded ballot which is then fed into a secure collection box at each station. The devices, which resemble large tablets, are in over a dozen languages and accessible to voters with disabilities.
The changes hold the potential to dramatically increase the number of registered voters as well as significantly improve voter turnout.
In June 2018, the number of Californians who turned out for that primary election was 37 percent of the state’s eligible voters. Seven million ballots in that election. It was the highest number of ballots cast in a non-presidential primary since 1998 and the third highest in a California primary. Los Angeles County only managed a 28 percent turnout, but that figure was still considered an improvement over past elections. In the June 2014 statewide primary, voter turnout had dropped to 25 percent and L.A. County’s turnout was barely over 14 percent.
“Increases in voter participation likely depend on the extent to which we can make voting relevant to a broader population of the electorate,” said L.A. County Registrar Recorder and County Clerk Dean Logan after the 2014 election.
Logan and his staff have been working for 10 years on making that goal a reality.
“We wanted to look at it more holistically so,” said Logan. “in addition to replacing aging equipment, what else to change about the model of voting to make it relevant and sustainable.”
At a recent mock election inside Sherman Oaks Community Center gym, Logan spoke about the changes that could transform the way votes will be cast in L.A. County. According to Logan the old system was not intuitive or user friendly and does not allow flexibility for language and disability access. Under the current federal and state voting rights acts, according to Logan, the county is required to provide election materials in 13 languages in addition to English.
“This new system allows us to comply with those federal and state standards,” said Logan, “but also gives us the flexibility to offer other languages that we know are prevalent in our communities.”
Voters will be able to switch back and forth between English and their native languages while casting their ballots.
“One of the things we learned in our research in working with voters is that many voters are fine with the contest and the candidates in English,” said Logan. “But when you get to the policy measures, the state ballot measures, initiatives and referendums, those can be very complicated and people like the ability to go back to their original language to better comprehend what’s being asked of them.”
All the new ballot marking devices are wheelchair accessible and feature audio capability, tactile keypads with braille buttons and are tiltable touch screen devices which make it much easier for people with dexterity issues.
The new voting devices print out paper ballots so voters can see exactly what or who they voted for before the ballots are turned in.
Voting system security was also taken into consideration during the planning and design of the new machines. The ballot marking devices are “air gapped,” meaning the devices are not connected to the internet. Hackers were invited to test the integrity of the system and he pointed out that the paper ballot system will enable the County to conduct audits to determine if ballots have been counted accurately. Reseda resident Sally Stevens came to the mock election at the Sherman Oaks Center and said she’s pleased with the changes in the way L.A. voters will be able to cast their ballots.
“It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s interactive and I’m glad to see it’s so well integrated,” said Stevens. “Hopefully people will find it easy, not just to use the technology, but the idea that they can vote at any vote center anywhere in the county.