Los Angeles County, a region with more than 4.7 million registered voters, is looking to reinvent the voting process. Still using a redesigned version of the punchcard voting system created for the 1968 presidential election, the county hired human-centered design firm IDEO to create a new model for voting. On April 16, the county announced it had entered the design phase of its Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP), and within 12 weeks, the county expects to have several ideas to choose from.
The project really began about two and a half years ago when the county began collecting data on how people vote and want to vote, said Dean Logan, county registrar-recorder and clerk. IDEO will use that data to come up with designs that focus on what people do, rather than the technology needed to finish the job – the technology will come later.
“There are emerging generations of voters that are going to have different behavior patterns,” Logan told Government Technology, “different ways of interacting with their community or in their day-to-day lives and they’re going to expect the voting process ... to be, at least to a certain degree, consistent with those behavior patterns. So we want to not just react to what we have today, but also keep an eye toward the future.”
The county’s existing voting system works, but it’s outdated, Logan said. “It’s robust,” he said. “It’s served us well, but both from a hardware and a software standpoint, it’s reached the end of its lifecycle and it doesn’t have the flexibility or the elasticity to adapt well or easily to changes in the regulatory environment.”
Now that the time has come to upgrade the voting system, there are few jurisdictions of comparable size or demographic makeup that the county can look to for good ideas.
According to Logan, reactionary changes to voting systems were rushed forward following the controversies of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections (the use of the butterfly ballot created a particularly contentious debate). Los Angeles County wants to create a better, more sustainable solution that considers challenges unique to their region.
With 4.7 million registered voters, Los Angeles County is the most populous county in the country. Los Angeles also has unique demographic challenges, with a linguistically diverse population and about 5,000 polling locations serving voters. So when the county decided to rethink their voting system, they wanted to start from scratch and design something that would meet the needs of the users -- voters and poll workers, Logan said.
“Voters generally want options,” he said. “That can be a range of options that includes early voting, voting by mail, or voting at a polling location on election day.” There have also been talks, he said, about allowing people to vote anywhere, rather than assigning a specific polling location based on one's residence. Other feedback indicates a desire for an intuitive user interface, which likely would include an electronic component. "But with that," Logan added, "they feel very strongly about security and secrecy of the ballot, so I think there is still a strong desire for a paper component of the ballot in terms of the ability to do post-election audits or recounts,” he said.
The county doesn’t know what the new system will look like, how it will work or what technologies it will use, Logan said. But it needs to be flexible and scalable, and single vendor proprietary systems aren’t typically well-suited for adaptability. “Voting is perhaps the most civic act we participate in, so we feel strongly that the voting system be publicly owned and operated.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.