Members of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party gathered today to try to clear up any confusion people may have had with the county's new voting system, just a few days before the March 3 primary election.
The Democrats pointed to a recent University of Southern California poll that showed just 38% of voters recently said they understood how the new system works. The party leaders said this may have been due to a lack of outreach from the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, which oversees the elections.
"I just think that (the RR/CC) didn't do a better job of advertising it in Spanish and other languages," Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Miguel Gonzalez said. "I think some folks just didn't know. They're so used to receiving their vote-by-mail pamphlet and they assume that it just goes to their precinct location. I think folks didn't know that it had changed so quickly."
The county this year decided to use its own system, the "Voting Solutions for All People," after concerns were raised regarding security issues. The technology for the VSAP has been developed for about a decade, Gonzalez said.
People can now vote at any Vote Center in the county, per the state ballot initiative passed in 2016, but some people who may not have received information on the voting system change were surprised to find their normal polling location no longer exists.
That happened to Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, who said his regular polling station has been dissolved. Santiago faces educator Godfrey Santos Plata in the 53rd Assembly District primary race.
Calls to the RR/CC were not immediately returned, but the Los Angeles Times reported in an interview earlier this year, RR/CC Dean Logan said, "I don't ever go into an election anticipating that everything is going to go picture-perfect. I think doing that would be naive."
Logan told the Times that some voters want to cast a ballot in person and that the new system makes that easier.
"I don't think they've lost access to a polling place," he said of those voters. "I think they've gained access to a place to vote over the course of 11 days."
This year, the county reduced its voting centers from about 4,000 to less than 1,000 but extended the number of days people could vote, as well as the hours, in addition to not assigning polling locations.
Voters who prefer to drop off their ballot in-person can visit any Vote by Mail Drop-off locations throughout the county. Mail-in ballots were sent out on Feb. 3.
On Feb. 22, the RR/CC opened 232 Vote Centers throughout the county. On Saturday, the additional 744 Vote Centers will open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Election Day, March 3, all Vote Centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A list of voting centers can be found at locator.lavote.net/locations/vc.
There have been concerns about the way ballots with long lists of candidates are presented, Gonzalez said. Some of the ballots have a "more" button to show the rest of the candidates but they may not appear on the first page. He said some people were confused between that button and a "next" button, which takes them to the next election.
Richard Sherman, the chairman of the Los Angeles County Republican Party, said the voting system issues cut across both party lines, and local Republicans have had similar concerns. He said the fact that only a few candidates show up on the first page of larger elections unless people click the "more" button could block some candidates from contention.
"If someone's at the bottom of the page, like an article, (voters) may not read to the end," Sherman told City News Service, adding that the changes that happened to polling locations may also be confusing for some.
"They may go to their elementary school they've gone to for the last 20 years," he said. "I think the Registrar tried, but I don't know if they succeeded."
Sherman also said the party is supporting a lawsuit filed in January by the city of Beverly Hills against the county that seeks changes to the touch- screen system that's being used at the ballots.
Gonzalez said the Democrats also has concerns regarding oversight and security of the ballots, which are also recorded by paper, as well as the machines at polling locations. The ballots are dropped off at the RR/CC office when the polling day is finished, but the Democrats wanted to ensure the systems were on a secure line and not WiFi.
"I think the biggest question in terms of oversight was ... whether or not these systems can be hacked," Gonzalez said, adding they were assured that the systems are secure. "We've gotten reports that some of these voting locations are not even open yet when they were listed to be open, therefore, disenfranchising some of our voters."
Access for people who are not near public transportation that services a voting center near them was another concern for the Democrats.
The Democrats said they invited Logan and his office to this morning's discussion in Little Tokyo but they declined.