LA County officials are taking bold steps to revolutionize our age-old voting process from the ground up. Soon county residents will have an 11-day window to cast their vote and traditional polling places will be replaced by vote centers.
Any voter can cast their ballot at any vote center. The centerpiece of their new game plan is a touchscreen ballot marking device (BMD). Their team is hoping the modernized system will be fully implemented by 2020, and they’re spreading the word through a series of town hall workshops.
On August 26, the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk and the office of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl hosted one of the first of these meetings at the Malibu Library to unveil their Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) initiative. Laura Herrera, from the VSAP outreach team, aimed to explain these changes and address any concerns. Community members were given the chance to test out the BMD firsthand.
The device is essentially an oversized touchscreen pad with numerous language options and components for those with hearing and vision impairments. It’s also wheelchair accessible and incorporates myriad other customizable features.
“This is our star,” Herrera said describing the new, all-inclusive voting apparatus. “It’s different than any other machine that you’ve ever seen on the market.”
The BMD, Herrera explained, was conceived in direct response to public dissatisfaction with conventional voting methods. Their goal was to create a more user-friendly, streamlined experience.
But the significant overhaul has left some voters uneasy. This apprehension was reflected in many of the questions of the workshop’s attendees. Herrera anticipated that security would be a key concern.
“I know what all of you are thinking….is it connected to the internet? And the answer is no.” Herrera said. “If you’re thinking about hacking, it is impossible to hack this…. All it’s doing is marking the ballot.”
Voters will still cast a paper ballot. Herrera repeated this point throughout the evening hoping to quell any lingering doubts. The voter inserts the physical ballot into the device, makes selections through the touchscreen and prints out the completed ballot for final review before casting it. The BMD deposits the finished paper ballot into an integrated ballot box.
Another vital issue for constituents: Where will the vote centers be located and how many will there be? The sites have not been confirmed, but a list of 2,000 potential locations, largely libraries and schools, can be found on the VSAP website. Topanga Library, Malibu City Hall and several locations in Calabasas and other neighboring communities are among them.
The finalized 1,000 vote centers will be based in part on user submissions and feedback, which residents can contribute through the Vote Center Placement Project on the county website. They expect to have a final selection by the end of September.
Sample ballots have also been made new again. Now voters can choose to fill out an interactive version at LAvote.net which generates a Poll Pass. Once the voter scans the pass onto the BMD, they review their choices and finalize their paper ballot. The BMD does not retain their selections or any voter information.
After the presentation and Q&A, a few attendees took the opportunity to walk through the BMD experience and users seemed satisfied. Next, the VSAP team hopes to expand this hands-on approach through a county-wide mock election.
The event will take place over two days on September 28 and 29 following National Voter Registration Day. Fifty vote center locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both days. The team aims to get at least 100,000 people to participate.
“This will be the first time that the public will be able to really engage with the new voting experience on a large scale,” Herrera said.
With all of these innovations forthcoming, the VSAP team is dedicated to their comprehensive outreach campaign. They plan to educate voters about all the changes well in advance of the March 3, 2020 election day.
“Voting early is critical,” Herrera reiterated. She urged voters to take advantage of the 11-day election period and the increasingly flexible vote-by-mail options.
“It’s very important that people don’t wait until the last minute to vote. We know that people will…especially when people aren’t used to it,” she said.
County officials hope to prevent voter procrastination through their outreach efforts.
Herrera reasserted, “If you live under a rock, you’ll still know about the new voting process.”
To learn more about the VSAP, the Vote Center Placement Project and upcoming events, please visit vsap.lavote.net