F. Castro / SFVS

When you head to vote next March 3 in the primary election you won’t be heading to your regular polling place. Instead you’ll be able to vote in any of the Voting Centers spread throughout Los Angeles County where you’ll use a touchscreen to select your choices. 

Lack of time to go vote, polling places opened only certain hours, missed the registration deadline. The excuses for not voting are endless, but there could be a lot fewer of them starting next year, when voting in Los Angeles County will change dramatically in an effort to make it easier, convenient and accessible.

The new election system will change “when, and where and how to vote,” noted Celia Contreras of Pacoima Beautiful, the community organization which organized a public meeting attended by nearly 100 people where details about Vote Centers, the new “human-centered” voting project redesign, were shared on June 27 at Pacoima City Hall.

Members of the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office (LARR/CC) were on hand to explain to voters the new way they’ll head to the polls starting next year, and at the same time encouraged them to suggest locations for Vote Centers that are the centerpiece of the new voting system.

Vote Centers

Gone are the 5,000 polling locations at churches, park gyms and even homes you’re used to. Now people will be able to vote at any of the centralized voting locations distributed around the county. That means you can go to a Vote Center near your home, your work or when you are shopping.

“Voters want choice,” says Dean Logan, head of the LARR/CC, in a video shown to the attendees at the meeting, adding it’s a “system that works with modern time.”

The idea, Logan said, is to pick “convenient locations that are comfortable for them,” with ample free parking available, are handicap accessible, and also accessible by public transportation, as well as places frequented by large groups of people.

Through interviews and surveys, the LARR/CC has identified 2,000 possible locations. The aim is to have 1,000, with 52 of them in the northeast San Fernando Valley including Pacoima City Hall, a shopping center at the corner of Hubbard Street and Glenoaks Boulevard and even the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center school at the border of Pacoima and San Fernando.

In addition there will be mobile and “pop-up” Vote Centers.

The goal is to have 1,000 of these places selected by December, when LARR/CC must submit them to the California Secretary of State for final approval.

Workers at these centers would be equipped with Electronic Pollbooks that will be used to verify that the person has not voted at any other location, and would also be connected to a voter database to certify the person is eligible to vote.

Extended Voting Periods

In the new system, voters will now have plenty of time to choose when to go vote.

The centers would be open for 11 days (including two weekends) prior to the actual Election Day. For next year’s March 3 Primary election, as explained Pacoima Beautiful organizer Alex Ortega, the first day of voting would be on Feb. 22.

Most importantly, voters would be able to register and vote on the same day.

LARR/CC representative Marianne Felix said they’re still trying to work out the hours the Vote Centers will be opened, but they will be open for eight hours each day.

“There’re no more reasons for you to say ‘I can’t go vote,’” Felix said.

Touchscreen Voting Machine

Also gone are the days of ink ballots.

The Vote Centers would each be equipped with 10-15 Ballot Marking Devices (BMD), new touchscreen voting terminals that have the ability to tilt the screen angle, adjust the font size, color and contrast to make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to vote.

The BMDs are available in 13 different languages and have an audio version for the hearing impaired.

After a person has made his/her selections, the machine will provide a paper ballot that can be reviewed before inserting into a vote scanner that records your vote.

To make this even easier, voters would have access to an Interactive Sample Ballot (ISB) on their phones or mobile devices to preselect options so when they get to a Vote Center they could simply scan and transfer their choices onto the ballot.

“There’s no need to fear technology,” said Contreras, after seeing the faces of attendees (mostly older men and women) upon hearing all of these changes.

To familiarize voters with this new voting system, there will be mock elections on Sept. 28 and 29 at 50 centers spread around the county. There will also be demonstration centers open from October to January, where the public can interact with the new voting machines.

Voters’ Opinions

Despite the promises of a fast, convenient and easy voting system, Al Cooper doesn’t like it.

“I think it sucks,” he said emphatically after leaving the community meeting. “It’s not like it used to be. They changed the whole system on voters.”

Something else he frowned on was “a lot of poll workers are going to lose their jobs.”  Cooper has been working at a polling place for a long time.

Felix said that while the LARR/CC would still need poll workers, there will be a lot fewer because of the elimination of thousands of polling locations. Also, given all the changes, most of the workers in the first county-wide election March 3 would be LARR/CC employees.

“People that were making money, they’re going to lose their jobs,” said Cooper, clearly upset.

But voter Cindy Ortiz sees the changes as a “learning experience.”

“We have to get with the times,” Ortiz said. “It sounds like it’s more convenient and we’re saving the trees.”

Los Angeles County, the largest voting district in the United States with 5.3 million voters, is not the first to implement this new voting system. Six other counties in California (including Napa, Madera and San Mateo) have already done so. The voter turnout showed an increase, although it must be said that those counties have vote-by-mail county-wide systems.

By the way, voting by mail will still be available under the new system, and people will be able to drop off their ballots at any of the Vote Centers while they’re open.

A higher voter turnout would be welcomed news in Los Angeles, where there have been some dismal numbers as of late, even during important elections.

In March 2017, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was up for re-election, there were also seven Los Angeles City Council seats up for grabs, and voters had to decide on a measure that would have limited housing developments and funds for the homeless. Barely 20 percent of the electorate participated. Election officials hope the new voting system reverses that trend.

Some voters seem to think it would. Even though it was the first time he’d heard about it, Ignacio Molina sees it positively.

“Yes, with this new voting method it’s easier to (vote),” Molina said. “We’re going to have the opportunity of going to the place that is nearer to us and more convenient.”

To view the potential vote centers selected, visit http://www.placeworkscivic.com/project/lacovcpp (https://bit.ly/2OkhEgt); you can comment on them by accessing https://vsap.lavote.net/vote-center-placement-project/ (https://bit.ly/2YLQnbb).