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How Los Angeles County is Rethinking Antiquated Voting Technology

July 16, 2014
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How Los Angeles County is Rethinking Antiquated Voting Technology
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The ambitious plan? To transform voting into a safer and more reliable process.

With 4.8 million registered voters, 5,000 polling places and the need to provide voting material in 12 different languages across the country’s largest election jurisdiction, Los Angeles County has its hands full during election season.

Which is why local election administrators are looking beyond repairing old systems to design a new one that meets the unique needs of its voters, according to Governing. The project, helmed by registrar-recorder/count clerk Dean Logan, is aimed at creating a public-owned and operated, transparent and safe system that ensures voters their ballot is accurately cast and counted.

The current system, which was developed by the L.A. County government during the late 1960s, employs different contracts from various commercial vendors for components of the overall voting system, according to Logan. He contends there has yet to be a voting system on the market to meet L.A. County’s needs, and creating a modernized system rather than rebuilding a version of an existing model is the solution.

“We also have a very diverse electorate and we are economically diverse,” Logan said. “So we serve areas that are very affluent and conditioned to options with technology; we also serve areas that are dependent on public transportation. We have a homeless population that needs to be served in order to vote. It’s just really a unique jurisdiction in terms of the combination of all of those elements.”

Using a “sizable public investment,” Logan’s team is designing a system that’s geared toward optimizing the voter experience, one of two projects across the country pioneering a new frontier in voter technology.  In Travis Country, Texas, local officials are implementing a similar project.

Rather than building customized hardware for the system, L.A. County plans to leverage technology already on the market and instead focus on creating secure software to load onto hardware. The reason why they’re not creating customized hardware? It would have to eventually be replaced, Logan argues. By focusing on software, the county can keep up with technology without starting all over with each new advance.

The new system will also separate the processes of marking the ballot from counting it, in contrast to the current system which combines both components.

“We want to build a ballot-marking process that has flexibility and is adaptable to the electorate we serve,” Logan said, “for those voters who vote by mail, for those voters who might want to go to a vote center, or vote early or at neighborhood polling places.”

The system would separate a paper-based, easy-to-read, tabulated ballot from the physical device where the ballot was cast, he adds — something that doesn’t exist in the current market of systems.

County administrators have not decided whether they plan to use private contractors, but will focus on developing specifications for the system before finding a manufacturer.

“So, instead of a vendor that will build the system, designing it around its business model and its ability to make a profit on it, we want to design it,” he explained. “We get the specifications and then we put it out to bid for a competitive process to determine who wants to build it, but according to the specifications that are already adopted.

While the system is not expected to be ready for the 2016 Presidential Election, local election administrators around the country will be watching to see whether the taking the plunge is worth the investment.

MORE: The Simple Fix That May Change How We Vote Forever

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