Dean Logan, the registrar-recorder/county clerk in Los Angeles County (the largest voting district in the country), is currently facing a daunting goal that will affect over 4 million voters: completely overhauling its dated election system over the next five years. Recognizing that it’s time for a change, Logan and his office are now trying to determine what, exactly, should they replace their election system with. They might wind up with something truly unique, something of the people.
The current system, Logan says, lacks the flexibility to suit the county’s increasingly diverse population. The county currently uses something like a punchcard voting system adapted from technology developed more than 40 years ago. Voters slide a paper ballot into a template with candidate names and mark it with ink. The ballots can be tabulated quickly, are easy to store, and provide a physical record of each vote. But they don’t list candidate names on the actual paper — those appear on the template — so it’s difficult for those who use the increasingly popular mail-in option to case their votes. The system also offers little in the way of of sophisticated language assistance or help for disabled voters.
“It’s old technology,” Logan says. “It’s not going to sustain a whole lot longer.”
None of the system’s original developers are employed by the county, and it’s become increasingly difficult to find people “with requisite skills in obsolete mainframe technologies” to replace retiring staff, according to a county report. Purchasing a new system don’t fit well with L.A. County’s operations: direct-recording electronic (DRE or touchscreen) machines are too expensive to be rolled out and maintained across 5,000 polling locations. A low-tech system — such as one that relies on hand-counting — could yield inaccuracies in a county as large as Los Angeles.
Yet L.A. County is so large that it may be able to get the private-sector or a non-profit to develop something original. And as Logan sees it, he has no other choice than to go that route. “The market, as it exists today, can’t meet the needs of L.A. County,” he says.
So Logan’s office is trying a different process: giving the people what they want. As part of an effort to determine how Angelinos should vote, the county teamed up with a partnership between the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to survey more than 1,000 voters, more than 1,000 poll workers, 26 city clerks from across the county and 64 staffers in Logan’s office. Participants are being asked what they like about the current voting system and what they’d like to see in the future. The county also got input from various stakeholders like advocates for the disabled and those with limited English skills, as well as local party officials.
The findings left no question about the needs for a change. “[T]he current system lacks the flexibility to meet voter preferences, as it does not offer voters an intuitive and user-friendly interface that retains confidence that votes are being cast and counted in a secure and efficient manner,” Logan wrote in a memo to county leaders earlier this year.
Logan sees this initiative as an opportunity for the future. His challenge will be to balance the needs of younger voters who are familiar with higher-tech devices with older residents who favor a more traditional approach. There’s also the demands of choosing voting technology that’s flexible enough to allow for multiple translations and disability services while convenient enough to be used for mail-in voters.
Full Article: L.A.’s Elections Overhaul Could Provide a New Model.