If Los Angeles County voters spark a revolution when they cast their ballots for President in 2020, it may not stem from the choices they select but rather the way they did it.

The digital age is coming to the ballot box here with a new, publically owned system that the County Clerk plans to begin rolling out next summer. The first major makeover to the region’s voting system since 1968 was a long time coming.

“We said ‘why don’t we look at this from a holistic standpoint and from the eyes of a voter?’” County Clerk Dean Logan told the Santa Monica City Council during a presentation of the new system.

The County partnered with designers at Palo Alto based IDEO to give southern California elections the Silicon Valley treatment. The design firm was behind the first Apple mouse, the first wearable breast pump (still in beta) and revamped public school cafeterias in San Francisco. The result: new voting booths that integrate smartphones, touchscreens, QR codes and old-fashioned paper.

Eight years after the over hall began in 2010, many of the changes to hit L.A. County’s five million voters are procedural, not digital.

The June 2018 election will introduce the new vote-by-mail ballots and drop-off program. Voters will no longer relive their high school days by filling in bubbles on a scan-able sheet.

After a pilot in November that year, the big changes come rolling in 2020. Logan says there will be up to 645 voting centers – some of them roving like food trucks to places voters are already gathering (such as your neighborhood farmer’s market). Scouts are looking for potential locations now. The County aims to extend the ballot casting period to ten days.

By the time Santa Monicans are voting in a national election once again, they will likely be doing it on touchscreen tablets at the centers. The digital ballot marking devices then print out a paper ballot voters can review one last time before officially casting. A machine will then read the unique QR code on the sheet of paper to tally the vote. It’s the closest the system can get to digital ballot casting.

“California Election Law requires a paper, human-readable ballot as the official record of votes cast,” Logan said. “While an electronic interface can assist greatly with accessibility and clarity in the voting process, a physical, paper-based ballot ensures the ability to audit the election, to conduct recounts (if requested) and to maintain a secret ballot.”

The County owns the intellection property behind the voting system and recently began looking for a manufacturer. Plans also include a digital sample ballot you can fill out on your smartphone and then scan into your voting booth, similar to a boarding pass at the airport.

Logan acknowledges the risks associated with the new system.

“We recognize that all systems are vulnerable to hacking and are taking appropriate measures to ensure the security of the new voting system,” Logan said. “This will include contracting with hackers and technical security experts to review the system prior to submission for approval and certification by the Secretary of State.”

The big question politicians are wondering – how will the new system affect voter turnout. Logan believes the issues will still be the big draw.

“We know that this alone will not change voter participation. It’s more intrinsic than that. We can’t control what is on the ballot or who is on the ballot,” Logan said.



Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press