Los Angeles County is re-inventing the nation’s largest electoral system, which serves nearly 4 million registered voters. The goal is a more flexible, user-friendly system that county officials hope will increase turnout. To design the system from scratch, county officials started in 2010 by surveying voters and stakeholder groups. They added observations from poll workers. The county registrar of voters also co-sponsored a design challenge on a crowdsourcing website that drew responses from all over. Cansu Akarsu, a designer from Turkey, suggested a computer tablet that helps poll workers interact with disabled people to select the right voting method. A person could use the system to select polling place accommodations days in advance. Tina Lee, a U.S.-based designer, suggests a tablet app that lets the voter decide the pace of the ballot display or the order in which contests would appear. Some other suggestions included a van that travels to voters, voting kiosks at grocery stores, and a two-week voting period.
Longtime poll worker Katsy Chappell knows what voters don’t want. “People come in and they’re really riled up – ‘I voted here last time!’ and for some reason L.A. has moved the line across the street,” Chappell said. She says voters don’t want to stand in line, baking in the sun. They don’t want to vote in a chilly garage. They don’t want to cast a provisional ballot because it won’t be counted that day.
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan oversees a system that dates from the late 1960s. The county still uses old IBM card-counting machines, part of a system that is nearing the end of its useful life. There’s a limit to how much information county ballots can hold. And the system’s programming language is obsolete.
“We’re at the stage where we’re taking all that raw data now and saying: ‘Okay, now we’ve got to make that into something tangible,'” Logan said. “We’ve got to figure out what that’s going to look like.”