Los Angeles County takes step toward voting system overhaul

Los Angeles County supervisors approve $15-million contract for design of a new voting system

Supervisors took a significant step Tuesday to overhaul Los Angeles County's antiquated ink-based balloting system by approving a $15-million contract with Palo Alto consultant Ideo for the design of a more modern way to record votes.

Elections officials -- who must serve about 4.8 million registered voters scattered across 5,000 precincts -- began planning for a new system five years ago. The process was guided by an advisory committee that included local city clerks, voting rights and open government advocates, and officials from the local Democratic and Republican parties.

The current system is known as InkaVote and requires voters to mark a paper ballot with their selections.

Under the new system, projected to roll out in 2020, voters would make their selections using a touch screen, and the voting machine would then print a paper ballot to be tallied.

Officials said the new system would be easier to navigate and would reduce the risk of errors in filling out and counting ballots. It would also better accommodate non-English speakers and voters with disabilities.

"The project is really about modernizing the voting experience in a way that reflects the diversity of our county," Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan said.

The county's vote-by-mail process would be the same. But the new system probably would lead to expanded options for in-person voting and even extend the window of time for voting to perhaps a couple weeks before the election.

New voting systems are often fraught with issues. Many California counties that switched to electronic voting about a decade ago had to scrap their systems after Secretary of State Debra Bowen set new, strict limits on their use, citing security issues.

Los Angeles County, at the time, had not made the switch because county officials had been unable to find an existing system that met the needs of the diverse and sprawling county.

The new system will be unusual in that the county -- not a vendor -- will own the computer code used to operate it.

The Ideo contract, which the supervisors approved unanimously, was issued without competitive bidding. Logan said that was because Ideo had been involved in the early stages of gathering ideas for the concept and because of the company's "human-centered" design approach.

The contract to manufacture the new voting equipment will be competitively bid and Ideo will not be eligible, Logan said.

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more Los Angeles County news.

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