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Los Angeles County Testing $300M Ballot System

Los Angeles County is testing its $300 million ballot system ahead of the November general election. After a debacle with the voting tech in March, the county is hoping to revitalize voter confidence.

by Ryan Carter, Daily News / July 8, 2020
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(TNS) — With the November general election swiftly approaching, Los Angeles County’s test run for its $300 million still-new voting center network has already begun, the county’s elections chief said Tuesday, seeking to reassure an electorate still shaken from the system’s meltdown during the March 3 primary.

L.A County Registrar Dean Logan said a beefed-up assessment process, which requires the county’s “Voting Solutions For All People” system to undergo a vigorous third-party testing regimen independent of the county and its election vendor, began 10 days ago.

That testing seeks to ensure that the problems that plagued the March 3 primary and its early in-person voting — from ePoll Book breakdowns to paper jams to touch-ballot problems — don’t happen again at highly touted voting centers. The process culminates with a certification from the Secretary of State’s office, Logan said.

The centers in March displaced the old-style neighborhood precincts and replaced them with hubs that housed rows and rows of new ballot machines, anchored by touch screens, where any county voter could come to vote early, cast a ballot on election day, register to vote of drop off a ballot.

“We know we have to make sure those kinds of issues don’t happen again,” Logan said, responding to a series of questions from Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn during a board meeting that included critiques from the public.

The aftermath of the March 3 primary has generally been buried amid the headlines from the COVID-19 pandemic and waves of protests inspired by the death of George Floyd.

But as November looms, county election officials say they’ve been working behind the scenes to redeem voters’ confidence after meltdowns that left gaps in trust among voters, poll workers and candidates.

County election officials had voiced confidence that the glitches that sprinkled the early voting period would be worked out by March 3, Election Day. But by late that day, Registrar Dean Logan was forced to extend voting hours beyond the normal 8 p.m. closing, as long lines of frustrated voters flooded local sites and short-staffed poll workers battled technical and communication.

Amid intense post-primary criticism, the registrar’s office initiated its own audit, buffered by an independent audit by Slalom Consulting LLC, a Seattle-based business and technology consulting firm, commissioned by the Board of Supervisors.

The audit found that while the system worked in many neighborhoods, it broke down in others, leaving many voters, poll workers, candidates and party officials dispirited over an election many saw as among the most important in some time.

Along with rigorous testing, county officials are working on:

Logan said he’s not assuming that people will necessarily vote early at the centers. Many, as they did on March, decided to vote in person on Election Day, a point that supervisors drilled down on Tuesday.

A new vendor will be contracted specifically to ensure that the county’s ePoll Books are synced with the state’s voter registration data base, Logan said.

Elections officials are looking to generate confidence on a voting landscape that has changed drastically since March 3 — just before the pandemic gripped the region.

In the run-up to March 3, the buzz was all about the highly touted in-person voting centers. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, the emphasis has shifted to a premium on public safety, staying close to home and to mail-in ballots. All this while getting caught in the middle of a national discussion over preserving the need for in-person voting while also promoting the need for mail-in ballots amid a pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in June requiring all registered voters get mail ballots for the November election. The Board of Supervisor approved the same measures, specific to L.A. County.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his allies continue to slam mail-in voting, claiming it is ripe for fraud. Logan faced new questions on Tuesday about making sure the mail-in experience was secure, now that every voter in the county will receive such a ballot.

Logan said elections officials are working on making sure voters feel confident about their vote by mail:

The election team will send advance mailers to give voters a heads up that mail-in ballots are coming in early October;

The county’s website will be updated with basic mail-in voter information;

Voters will be able to use the website to verify their registration information before mail ballots go out; and

The website will allow voters track their mail-in ballots.

Hahn pressed Logan on why the Registrar’s website still tells voters how to sign up to get a mail-in ballot, when all voters have been mandated to receive such a ballot. Logan said he was aware of the lag, and that the website will be updated by the middle of July.

©2020 the Daily News (Los Angeles) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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