I saw the future of voting the other day. And then I broke it.
Not on purpose, of course. I was trying out one of Los Angeles County’s new ballot-marking machines at a media preview on Sept. 16. Everything was going fine until the last step. After I’d finished using the touch pad to make my selections (for best county park, sports team, etc.), the machine printed out a hard copy of my ballot. I checked it for accuracy and then stuck it back into the slot whence it printed, where it would be deposited into a secure box below. And, just like countless printers I’ve used at home or in the office, it jammed.
The breakdown was probably just a fluke — and quickly fixed — but county election chief Dean Logan is wisely trying to ensure that it wasn’t a preview of election day problems to come. This weekend, Logan will hold a large-scale public test run of the new voting system in 50 locations around the county, from Azusa to Wilmington. Everyone is invited to show up and give the new machines a twirl, even children. It’s both a bit of public education in advance of the looming seismic shift in how the county will cast ballots and a dress rehearsal that could highlight any lurking bugs.
In just a few months, the county will be rolling out about 31,000 of the new ballot-marking systems to 1,000 voting centers placed strategically around the county that will replace neighborhood polling places, starting with the March 2020 primary. Any county voter will be able to cast a ballot at any one of the centers, which will open 10 days before election day. Though it’s probably inevitable that people will call the new devices voting machines, they are not. They are digital ballot marking assistants that merely speed up the process of creating a paper ballot. The ballot-marking machines are not connected to the internet or even an internal network and do not record your selections or count your ballot.
In any case, it’s going to be a very different experience from the old-school, ink-splotch system the county has used since punch-card ballots were dumped after the hanging chad debacle of 2000.
The last few years have seen plenty of election day woes, such as broken equipment and registration lists with thousands of voters missing, and that was with a system that had been in place for the better part of two decades. Currently, nearly 5.4 million people are registered to vote in the county. If only half those people decide to vote in the 2020 primary, that’s still a heck of lot of people and ballots potentially jamming up the system.
You should go to one of the new voting centers and try out a ballot marking machine this weekend — and bring a lot of your friends. The system will make its debut amid what could be a record turnout for a presidential primary, and it’s imperative it gets a healthy preshow workout.