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L.A. County Plans to Transition to Vote CentersEXPAND
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L.A. County Plans to Transition to Vote Centers

Voters in Los Angeles County will have up to 11 days to vote in the March 2020 presidential primary election, and the option to vote anywhere in the county at Vote Centers, on what looks like a touchscreen tablet.

Those changes are being discussed at community meetings across the county, from Inglewood to Glendale to Reseda, and will continue through Jan. 19.

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Through a project called Voting Solutions for All People, or VSAP (vsap.lavote.net), the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk plans to create a new voting experience to make it easier for all voters, including voters with disabilities and multilingual voters.

Why the change?

“Part of the reason why is that voting equipment now is outdated — the voting system that is in place now is functional but, as time progresses and technology becomes available, we want to improve our voting system and be able to provide to voters options and more access to be able to vote,” says Mike Sanchez, public information officer.

“It’s multilayered,” Sanchez says. “On top of the new technology we will be using in 2020, the Vote Center model in general allows for 11 days to vote. Currently, elections are held on one day, a Tuesday. Other options like vote-by-mail will still be available, but the in-person component is very restrictive.

“Los Angeles County started early weekend voting, it’s fairly new, the last few years. The office in Norwalk is open to early voting but that is not convenient if you live far away. … The 11-day period is a very drastic change.”

And, there will be the option to vote anywhere in the county, Sanchez says. Additionally, Vote Centers will  serve as vote-by-mail drop-off locations.

Senate Bill 450, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, called for improvements to the voting experience. Among the changes are the switch to Vote Centers from polling places, a longer voting period (up to 10 days before Election Day) and the ability to vote anywhere in the county.

In some counties, such as Sacramento and San Luis Obispo, the new voting options were available beginning this year, according to information from Brown’s office. By 2020, all counties in the state would be allowed to adopt the changes.

Los Angeles County is home to nearly 5 million voters, making it the largest voting jurisdiction in the United States.

“The devices and design are unique to Los Angeles County,” Sanchez says, although other counties have implemented the 11-day voting period. “We do have eyes on us. I think once we establish a successful outcome for 2020, other counties might pick our brain. We haven't crossed that bridge yet.”

The new Vote Centers, which will be determined after public input from the community meetings that are taking place, also will allow a person to update outdated voter registration information.

“It would nearly eliminate provisional ballots,” Sanchez says. “This past election, there were several hundred thousand. There is a stigma associated with provisional ballots, that they don't count or your vote is not good. But that’s a safeguard to cast a ballot on Election Day.”

A VSAP video shows voters will have the option of a digital sample ballot on what looks like a smartphone app.

Referred to as an interactive sample ballot (ISB), Sanchez describes it as a web application to look at all the information that you would find on a paper sample ballot. “You can pre-mark it and go through the remainder of the ballot,” he says. “All selections made on the sample ballot will not be transferred. It is all stored on the individual’s personal device.”

This then generates a poll pass, which will work similarly to a boarding pass, Sanchez says. It will be scanned at the Vote Center, can be reviewed and changed, and then one can move forward and cast their vote.

“Also remember that 2020 will still use a physical paper ballot,” Sanchez says. “It is important to note that when you go through ISB you still need to show up and physically vote at a Vote Center.”

The new machines/tablets have a stand-alone power source, he says. After a selection is made on the touchscreen, a paper copy is printed that shows a summary of all your selections, along with a QR code that serves as a security measure. The paper summary is then placed back into the machine and secure box that is part of the voting unit.

For those who may not consider themselves tech-savvy, Sanchez says there will be staff at every Vote Center to instruct and assist voters as needed.

Sanchez also says that part of the design and research of the new machine is based on focus groups with the elderly and people with accessibility concerns including the blind. All the information acquired was put into this design.

“It is very easy to read and navigate the system,” Sanchez says. “We are confident that whether you have a lot of experience or no experience with technology, you can utilize this and have a positive experience.”

Sanchez also said paper sample ballots are not going away, as they are required by law. Sample ballots also provide election information, and where and how to vote, along with candidate and measure statements.

The VSAP video is a good source to get a glimpse of the new machines — Sanchez says that is “almost exactly what they will look like.”

There are also discussions about pop-up voting sites at large sporting events and at locations such as convalescent homes, where people may have difficulty getting to a Vote Center, he says.

And next year, there are plans for a mock election.

“It will be one of the first times the public as a mass will be able to see and use [the machines],” Sanchez says. That could take place by fall 2019 at multiple locations across the county. It will serve as an awareness campaign and a way to test the equipment before it goes live in March 2020.

For more information about the community meetings for Vote Centers or to watch a video about the new technology, visit vsap.lavote.net.

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