Fixing America’s Aging Election Technology

By Josh Robin,
Spectrum News 1,
September 3, 2020


Americans may turn out in record numbers this election.

But breaking the U.S. record would still leave us far from the top compared to the world’s other democracies. 

As it stands now, we’re not even particularly close when it comes to turnout.

In the last presidential election, a bit more than 55 percent of the voting-age population cast a ballot, well below the global leaders Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark – all around 85 percent.

The participation rates have long caught the interest of public officials – with the middling turnout pinned on the often cumbersome nature of voting, a lack of civic classes in the school curriculum, and even apathy.

- - - - - - - - -

That is the theory in Los Angeles, where voting officials have spent the last decade revamping the way elections are done.

Home to 5.5 million voters of many backgrounds, L.A. has the nation’s largest voting area. But since 1990, on average, only about a third of eligible voters cast ballots. 

“Things are happening in L.A. on a scale that just doesn't happen anywhere else,” says Kim Alexander, President and Founder of the California Voter Foundation. “And that introduces a lot of challenges that other countries don't have to deal with.”

To help deal with some of these challenges, Los Angeles Country started developing Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) in 2009. 

“There wasn't anything available on the market that could scale to the size and complexity of Los Angeles County,” says Dean Logan, the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for Los Angeles County.

The hope – that it would be easier for voters of different backgrounds and addresses to navigate. Until the rollout of VSAP, L.A. County was using a system that hadn’t been updated since the 1960s — the “punch card” method of picking candidates that featured prominently in the 2000 presidential race in Florida.

With the new system’s debut during the primary election this past March, the plastic vote recorders and ink pens were gone; in their place were new touch-screen voting machines, designed with accessibility in mind. 

But amid much fanfare, the new system’s debut didn't go smoothly. Issues ranged from connectivity problems with the electronic poll books to paper jams, which election officials knew about before. 

Turnout was also roughly the same as the last presidential primary four years ago.

“We take responsibility for the issues that we had in our March election,” Logan says. “But I do think that we have to be cautious of throwing out systems or disregarding systems when we face challenges like that.”

“I think the jury is still out on LA’s VSAP system,” says Alexander. “We need to see if it can perform the way that it was designed.” (Full Story)