By : Elizabeth Harte
As the nation works to achieve a balance between election security and access to voting, California is rolling out a new system designed to “modernize elections.” Entitled “California’s Voter’s Choice Act,” the act was passed in 2016 and will become available for all counties to adopt in 2020. This extraordinary plan moves voting into the twenty-first century and does away with traditional, assigned voting places. In their stead, Californian counties that opt into the act will implement “vote centers.” These centers will serve as an all-purpose stop for Californians to ensure their voices are heard. For example, instead of the typical assignment to one polling place in their county, a Los Angeles County resident will be able to visit any center in their county most convenient to them and can do so up to ten days before the election. At a center, the said Angeleno can: “vote in person; drop off their ballot; get a replacement ballot; vote using an accessible voting machine; get help and voting material in multiple languages; [and] register to vote or update their voter registration.”
However, a 2017 survey showed some hesitance by Californians to embrace this new system. Sixty-one percent “did not like the idea of voting centers replacing their neighborhood polling places.” The level of skepticism that follows this rollout signals the need for education about the system. Failure to do so may result in the very lack of turnout that these increased access measures seek to combat. Thus, mock elections have been conducted in some counties to eradicate any misconceptions about, and popularize, the system.
A mock election was held in Los Angeles County on September 28 and 29, 2019 to test out these new centers. The mock elections, held at fifty-eight centers across the county, welcomed “voters” of all ages to try out the equipment, with incentives such as food trucks to attract a turnout.
As Los Angeles County integrates technological advances prevalent in the private sector to advance their election system, the state is modernizing the voting process before election day. Using QR codes created by an app, Angelenos were able to bring along their pre-selected sample ballots, which ultimately allowed them to quickly cast planned, informed votes.
When “voters” showed up to the mock election, they were greeted with an innovation that clearly demonstrates Los Angeles County’s efforts to meet the state’s commitment to increasing voter access: large, iPad-like touch screens. These touch screens increase access for those that need additional accommodations, like options for spoken ballots and additional languages, and translate their selections to a paper ballot, “to preserve the integrity of the votes.” This system allows Los Angeles County to get the best of both worlds, allowing for the accessibility technology provides while creating a paper trail that those concerned about election security desire. Further, while said security concerns are always present, it is important to note these electronic systems lack WIFI connectivity, and, thus, hacking concerns are further minimized.
As we move closer to the 2020 election cycle, the nation will be watching to see the success of California’s Voter’s Choice plan. Until then, let us take hope in the 3% increase in voter turnout that the counties who implemented the plan in 2018 recorded, a step towards the goal of accessibility and participation.