Los Angeles County is by far the biggest election jurisdiction in the U.S., but if dealing with 4.5 million voters isn’t enough, the county is also hampered by an outdated voting system. The registrar says it’s due for a major facelift, and he’s looking to the public for answers. Logan says a countywide election can mean organizing up to 5,000 polling places and 25,000 poll workers on election day. “Election day is equivalent to a military operation. We literally have helicopters bringing the ballots back to our headquarters, we have people deployed all over the county — it’s a mega operation,” Logan says.
For a county so big, it’s never an easy task, but Logan says the voting technology has also become a big problem in recent years; those ballots sprayed with ink dots, the infrared scanners, the tally machines – they aren’t cutting it. “The issue is not that the software is bad,” says Logan, “but that it isn’t flexible – there aren’t people going to school to learn that software anymore. Same thing with the hardware; the card readers are retrofitted IBM punch card readers, and while they count really fast, it’s hard to get parts for them.”
Logan saw this coming from a mile away, but he could never have anticipated his biggest obstacle: there isn’t a voting system on the market that he can switch to. Most counties across the U.S. use large-sized optical scan ballots, a system that’s not scalable to L.A. County. The printing and storage costs would not be sustainable.
So in 2009 Logan decided to start from scratch. He began by talking to thousands of people, from longtime voters to soon-to-be voters still in high school, to figure out what an ideal voting experience might look like. He asked questions like,“If voting was available at multiple locations, during a longer period of time, would you be more likely to participate?” or “If you could access information about candidates and measures online through some app, would that encourage you?”
The answers helped Logan draft a set of guiding principles, but he didn’t have the money to research and design a brand new system. So he went to a Bay Area company called OpenIDEO which does design-oriented crowd-sourcing. They generally partner with sponsors to tackle a problem – say, designing a new voting system – and pose a challenge. Then IDEO’s unique online community takes over. A global network of users share stories and experiences, pitch ideas, give each other feedback, and eventually – according to co-director Nicholas Waterhouse – they collaborate to develop the stronger ideas into full-fledged designs.