Los Angeles County is hoping to eliminate long lines at the polls and boost voter turnout in time for the most contentious Democratic primary in recent memory.
In the upcoming primary, Los Angeles County residents will be able to register to vote and cast their ballots at any vote center for 11 days, including election day. The vote centers will be equipped with machines that voters can use to vote electronically and print their paper ballots.
“The months-earlier presidential primary means that California will have a bigger and more significant say in determining who will try to fret back the White House next fall,” said Genise Schnitman, communications coordinator for the Santa Monica Democratic Club.
The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder has not yet announced where the vote centers will be located because it is still soliciting input from residents as to their preferred sites. In Santa Monica, potential centers include familiar polling places like schools, libraries, churches and parks, as well as less traditional locations like Barker Hangar and Santa Monica Place.
Across the county, one voter center will serve every 30,000 registered voters for the 10 days prior to the election. On election day and the three days prior, 1,000 vote centers will be open around the county — one for every 7,500 registered voters. Flex voting centers will also be set up at places like homeless shelters and senior living facilities, Klein said.
“You’ll no longer have to cast your ballot near your home,” he said. “If you live in Santa Monica and work in Long Beach, you can vote your Santa Monica ballot after work.”
Before going to a vote center, voters will have the option to receive an electronic sample ballot, said Jeff Klein, manager of voter education outreach for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.
“You’ll be able to use the electronic ballot to make all your selections ahead of time,” he said. “It generates a QR vote you can bring into the vote center, scan it into the device and it instantly transfers your selections over.”
The voting machines, which are not connected to the internet, will print a paper ballot with their selections.
“You can think of it essentially as a giant printer,” he said. “There’s no internet connection, there’s no WiFi, nothing is saved by the device, nothing is uploaded by the device. Everything is tabulated directly off the paper.”
Schnitman said some members of the Santa Monica Democratic Club are concerned that the touchscreen might force voters to flip back and forth between long lists of candidates or ballot measures.
“An issue of particular salience in Santa Monica — the problem where there are more candidates for an office than can be fit on a screen, as of course is the case in our elections — remained with no satisfactory solution in sight and we will be looking for better approaches,” she said.
If a voter is registered to vote by mail, they can cancel their mail-in ballot using the voting machine, Klein said. If they still wish to vote by mail, they can mail their ballot without postage or drop it off at a vote center or 150 drop boxes spread throughout the county.
The county chose to develop the Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) system after the California State Legislature adopted the California Voter’s Choice Act in 2016. Just five counties made the switch to a Voter’s Choice Act model for the 2018 midterms: San Mateo, Sacramento, Napa, Madera and Nevada.
Researchers found those counties saw a 3% boost in turnout compared to the 2016 election and made progress in getting underrepresented groups to the ballot box, although a 2017 poll found that most voters wanted to cast their ballots at their neighborhood polling place rather than a vote center.
Klein said he can’t say definitively whether the voting centers will increase turnout, but they will make voting more accessible and save the county money. VSAP will also eliminate 90% of provisional ballots, speed up the process of tallying votes and simplify audits and recounts.
But he did say that research indicates that allowing voters to cast their ballots over a period of several days does eliminate many of the most common reasons people choose not to vote, such as that they were too busy on election day or had to work late.
“It’s a system that really reflects how people live their lives now,” he said. “We’re a very mobile society and people don’t ever take care of anything on one specific day or time.”