Could L.A. County’s New Voting System Solve Election Security?

Paper ballots, a paper trail and no internet connectivity on ballot readers. VSAP may be the answer we’ve been looking for. AND it’s publicly owned!

Its genesis was a ten-year voting systems research project conducted by the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Its ownership is public: the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office created and controls it. No private vendors need apply.

And its design protects the security of every vote – while broadly expanding voting options and accessibility.

With L.A. County’s new Voting Solutions for All People – or VSAP – set to roll out during California’s presidential primary in early 2020, elections officials across the country are watching to see if the new technology delivers the voting process and vote security they’ve all been looking for.

While County Registrar-Recorder staffers like Civic Engagement, Community Relations & Legislation official Jeff Klein caution that the VSAP rollout is unlikely to be totally glitch-free, they’re nonetheless optimistic about the immediate impact the new system will have on voting in L.A. County.

When the system goes live on February 22, ahead of the March 3 California primary election, Klein told members of the North Valley Democratic Club in suburban L.A. recently that “we’ll be ahead of Microsoft’s effort [to create a hack-resistant, voter-friendly, paper-based voting system] by several years – and they said we’re doing it right.”

VSAP offers a multitude of features that voting-security activists are likely to applaud, Klein declared.

Employing open-source technology in what is the first-ever publicly owned voting system, VSAP relies on:

  • Paper, human-readable ballots that voters mark and verify before personally inserting into voting machines or delivering to the registrar.
  • Election counts, audits and recounts using those paper ballots.
  • Election security features, including a three-level county/state/federal Internet security system and cyber-security protocols managed by county elections officials, rather than a private vendor. (The county owns and corrects any system glitches, instead of having to ask a vendor whose contract may allow it to refuse to fix system flaws.)
  • NO Internet connection for the ballot marking device, to guard against vote hacking; the only connection is an electrical plug to power the machines.
Convenient voting, faster tallying

At 4,751 square miles, Los Angeles County is, geographically speaking, a pretty large voting territory. Its tally of registered voters topped 5.3 million on January 1, 2019 – giving L.A. County more registered voters than 46 of America’s 50 states.

The sheer size of its voting population and the vast geographic spread of its communities have long made L.A. County a challenging venue for efficiently run, speedy-results elections. The new VSAP system aims to address both challenges.

When VSAP rolls out next year, L.A. County’s thousands of precinct-based Election Day-only voting locations will be replaced with some 250 voting centers. Those centers will open 10 days before the March 3 primary election; their number will increase to 1,000 for the three final pre-election days, and all 1,000 will be open on Election Day.

The Registrar’s office also will operate a number of mobile and pop-up vote centers during the 11-day election period, taking them to major public and community events and to facilities that serve housebound voters, such as hospitals and senior living centers. They’re even looking at opening some 24-hour vote centers, to test voter interest in round-the-clock voting access.

Instead of having to mail in ballots, make their way to one of the County’s few early-voting locations, or vote at their neighborhood precinct on Election Day, L.A. County residents will now be able to cast a ballot at any voting center in the county, on any day during the 11-day voting period. They’ll be able to vote at a center if they’ve misplaced or decide not to use their vote-by-mail ballot. And they’ll have the option of dropping off vote-by-mail ballots at a Registrar’s drop box location any time in the 29 days preceding the election.

When voters receive their sample ballots, they’ll receive a list of vote centers closest to their home, and an online address to use in locating vote centers near their school, workplace or other location. That list also will be provided to L.A. County newspapers and broadcast media for news reporting on the new vote process.

L.A. County residents will be able to register as new voters or update an existing registration at the centers, either ahead of or on Election Day. An electronic voter registration book – the only system component with an Internet connection – will ensure that an individual cannot register at multiple locations in the County and will allow them to cast a conditional ballot on site, to be counted after the Registrar clears the new voter’s registration.

Voters still will be able to submit early mail-in ballots, but with just 35 to 40% of L.A. County voters currently signed up for mail-in, the new voting centers will change the way most of the region’s citizens cast ballots.

Each night of the ten-day pre-Election Day cycle, Registrar’s officials will collect ballots from voting machines at each voting center and drop box and deliver them to the County Registrar/Recorder’s office in Norwalk, Calif.

That process, they anticipate, will speed vote counting on election night, since Registrar staffers will be able to start running already-collected ballots through tabulation machines as soon as the polls close that night, instead of having to wait for ballots to be picked up at thousands of precinct locations and driven to Norwalk. It also will enhance vote security, with all vote tallying done on a single vote tabulation system at County headquarters (not at voting centers); and with physical paper ballot retention, rather than electronic vote data storage that can be vulnerable to hacking.

Campaigns and political parties will benefit from the new system, too. The County will provide a web portal they can use for poll-watching – enabling them to do their “get out the vote” checks electronically, instead of having to drive from precinct to precinct to check paper voter lists updated by poll workers only as time permits.

Easy-to-use & accessible

In addition to the geographic convenience of vote-at-any-center-and-on-any-of-11-days, the VSAP system is user friendly.

Instead of L.A. County’s old computer cards on which voters inked in a numbered circle that corresponded to the candidate or ballot issue number on their sample ballots, VSAP uses either a full-page paper ballot on which the voter marks a circle next to the candidate or issue name; or a mobile-enabled ballot with a QR code. Voters take their paper ballots or mobile devices in to the voting center, and either feed their marked paper ballot into the machine or scan the QR code. The machine then produces an official paper ballot, which the voter reviews, revises if needed, and confirms before submitting it.

According to Klein, the Registrar/Recorder official, “this system’s easier to use than an ATM. It even alerts you if you over-vote [vote for two candidates when you’re allowed one choice] or if you miss a race on the ballot.”

The system supports multiple languages – an important feature in a county as diverse as L.A., where 13 languages will be offered – and is Americans With Disabilities accessible, offering audio, touchscreen and tactile (Braille) features.

To introduce residents to the new voting system, the Registrar’s office will host mock election events in some 50 locations around the county following National Voter Registration Day in late September, complete with food trucks and fun “mock ballots” that will allow voters to test-drive the new balloting system.

They’ll also open 10 voting system Demonstration Centers around the county – two in each of L.A. County’s five supervisorial districts – from October until January. Some centers will be open evenings and weekends to maximize public access opportunities.

And then, starting on February 22, the eyes of election officials across the country will focus on L.A. County and on VSAP.

Because, if it works here, VSAP very well could be the future of paper-ballot, vendor-free, secure and verifiable voting for all of America.

And that, folks, will be good for our democracy.

For more information on L.A. County’s new Voting Solutions for All People system, visit www.LAvote.net or follow @lacountyrrcc.

Blogger Marcy Miroff Rothenberg writes most often on politics and women’s issues. Her new book – Ms. Nice Guy Lost – Here’s How Women Can Win– offers a comprehensive summary of the attacks waged on American women’s rights and opportunities by Trump and the GOP since 2016 – and a to-do list for fighting back. It’s available from store.bookbaby.com and at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and Goodreads.com.

2 thoughts on “Could L.A. County’s New Voting System Solve Election Security?

  1. Marcy, Great piece on VASP. Please create a Twitter account for yourself, and tweet your articles. DemWrite etc. also need a Twitter Acct. Am a former Election official up here in Vancouver Canada, for the past 17 years, and can vouch that VASP & hybrids work well, to protect the intergrity of Voting and keeping Democracy strong. Keep The Flag Flying! MM https://twitter.com/MissMyrtle2

    1. Thank you, Miss Myrtle! It’s great to share elections info/ideas with our Canadian cousins!

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