Los Angeles County is home to a burgeoning technology industry. It boasts a roster of high-profile companies including Hulu, Snapchat, and Tinder. As of 2013, it offered more high-tech jobs than other major markets in the country, including Silicon Valley and New York City. Come election time, however, its residents cast their votes by marking inkblots on ballots that resemble Scantron forms. This discrepancy hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, thanks to recent efforts, it’s gradually narrowing. LA County is finally in the process of developing an open source voting system, purported to be a flexible, intuitive replacement of the incumbent method. Under the new system, slated for public use in 2020, voters will indicate their choices on a touchscreen-operated tablet, after which a machine at the voting booth will print and process their paper ballots to be tallied. This is a leap from the ink-based system, which has remained unchanged since its adoption in 2003. The project, which began in 2009, stems from a combination of misfortune and luck. After the 2000 presidential election, many jurisdictions adopted paperless voting systems in compliance with new federal legislation. LA County couldn’t make the shift; the electronic systems on the market lacked the capacity to process its high volume of votes, and the county was forced to develop its own software. Eventually, some of the other jurisdictions’ machines began to fail and lost their certification. Though spared, Los Angeles County recognized this volatility, and it started drafting plans for a more sustainable solution.
“We observed what took place in the last decade with this heightened awareness and sensitivity to voting technology at the same time as this kind of evolution of open-source,” said Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan. “It just seemed like a natural fit to look at this.”
As an alternative to electronic systems, an open source framework will likely offer a more adaptable and affordable model for procuring voting equipment. Traditionally, counties sign end-to-end agreements with private vendors, wherein one company provides the software, hardware, and support for a voting system, offering little flexibility in pricing, use, and design. By managing its own software, LA becomes independent from the single-vendor schema, and it has relative control over the types of hardware it invests in and the amount of money it spends.
“We wanted to do this on an agile basis and a component based-system,” Logan said. “So if there’s somebody who can provide us the video monitors at the best price, then we’ll buy the video monitors from them, and we’ll integrate that with other components.”