Los Angeles has been garnering ignominious attention for its voting habits lately.
In 2013, turnout for the city’s mayoral contest was a woeful 23% percent, triggering anxious reflections on civic identity in the City of Angels. And earlier this year, Los Angeles proposed holding a raffle with prizes as a way to boost flagging turnout across the city.
But this week, Los Angeles County received promising news about developments that may lead to an easier voting process and increased voter turnout for the country’s largest election jurisdiction.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council overwhelmingly approved a request to draft a ballot measure that would suggest moving city elections from odd-numbered years (as in 2013) to even-numbered years to overlap with gubernatorial and presidential elections. (The idea will go before Los Angeles voters next year.) While there is ample evidence of the effect of changing the date of municipal elections to coincide with larger state and national elections, a September report from Los Angeles City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana demonstrated that a comparison between voter turnout in 2012 and 2013 shows that voter turnout in the city of Los Angeles was markedly elevated during the presidential election year.
Los Angeles County officials also announced plans earlier this week for an ambitious overhaul of the county’s antiquated ink-based voting system, a challenging undertaking for the massive and diverse county.
With more than 4.8 million registered voters, 5000 polling places, 25,000 poll workers, and materials in 12 different languages, managing elections in Los Angeles County is a gargantuan task. A 2012 report from the office of Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan found that the county’s electorate is bigger than 42 states.
Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $15 million contract with Palo Alto, CA-based technology firm Ideo to develop a more modern way for voters to vote and reduce the risk of errors in filling out and counting ballots. The new system would allow voters to vote using a touch-screen process that would result in a printed paper ballot that could be counted. The new system is slated to premiere in time for the 2020 election.
The process of coming up with a new voting system that would meet the diverse needs of citizens in Los Angeles County is part of an effort to update a current system that dates back to the 1960s. With many local governments facing crises over increasingly obsolete voting technologies and related costs of updating them, the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters decided to come up with its own system as opposed to going through a private vendor that would hold proprietary rights to the technology. The department rethought the entire voting process, starting by asking voters about their needs as well as co-sponsoring a design challenge to gather more ideas.
In an interview with Governing magazine in July, Logan pointed out the need to develop a more easily navigable system while also breaking new ground by adding security features that aren’t already available.
We want to build a ballot-marking process that has flexibility and is adaptable to the electorate we serve, for those voters who vote by mail, for those voters who might want to go to a vote center, or vote early or at neighborhood polling places…But then we want that to produce a uniform paper-based, human-readable ballot that is tabulated on an entirely different system that has no physical relationship to the device where the ballot was marked. That’s a security feature that doesn’t exist today.
With voting changes likely coming, there’s reason to hope that reports about voter turnout in Los Angeles County will highlight a different sort of election success story in Novembers to come.