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County eyes voting system improvements

Balloting system assessed to see if it could be modernized

Posted: December 27, 2013 10:58 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2013 10:58 p.m.
Early morning voters cast their ballots at the Hasley Canyon Village polling station in Castaic on Nov. 2, 2012. Early morning voters cast their ballots at the Hasley Canyon Village polling station in Castaic on Nov. 2, 2012.
Early morning voters cast their ballots at the Hasley Canyon Village polling station in Castaic on Nov. 2, 2012.

Officials are examining how to overhaul and modernize Los Angeles County’s voting system to bring it out of the 1960s and into the 21st century, perhaps eliminating the hurdles that prevented Santa Clarita Valley school districts and a water district from changing their election dates earlier this year.

The Los Angeles County’s Office of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk launched an effort, called the Voting System Assessment Project, in 2009 as a way to determine the current and future needs of county voters.

“While the county’s current voting system has served the voters of Los Angeles County with accuracy and integrity, the design of these systems and the age of their technology do not offer the technical and functional elasticity necessary to continue to accommodate the growing and increasingly diverse electorate,” reads a county description of the assessment.

Part of the challenge in developing a new voting system is the sheer size of Los Angeles County. The county is home to just under 10 million people and has more than 4 million registered voters. That’s higher than the voting populations of most states.

Another challenge is the antiquated makeup of the county’s current voting system.

Portions of the county’s voting system are based on technology left over from the 1960s, according to officials, meaning the county is currently limited in regard to how many contests or races can appear on a specific ballot.

The current voting system cannot accommodate ballots that are longer than 12 pages, according to Efrain Escobedo with the Los Angeles County Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

In an interview earlier this year, he said current ballots contain, on average, 165 different contests and 400 different candidates, along with about 50 measures.

“Right now, at this time, we have concerns with the capacity of the voting system,” Escobedo said in April. “And we have voiced those.”

Limitations in the county’s ballot system were cited as a key reason why school districts and a water district in the Santa Clarita Valley were unable to change their board election dates from odd-numbered to even-numbered years.

That move would have saved money for the districts, officials say, and could have boosted voter turnout since even-year ballots sport high-interest races for governor and president and usually draw more voters.

Tony Bell, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, said community involvement and input should be a large part of the Voting System Assessment Project.

“Moreover, we’ve requested time lines for when we can expect greater opportunities for even-year elections consolidation,” Bell wrote.

Antonovich supported the local districts’ attempts to change their election dates, though the motion failed to pass the Board of Supervisors.

Moving forward, the county will examine proposals on how to update its voting system with the goal of having a new infrastructure in place in time for the 2016 election.

Most recently, the county has been working with a Bay Area design firm, IDEO, to develop new approaches for how to update the county’s antiquated voting system, including making greater use of touch screens and making polling equipment more mobile and accessible.


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