Los Angeles County’s new voting system was put to the test on Super Tuesday—and, for some residents, results were decidedly mixed. While things seemed to proceed as expected in some locations, other voting centers had long wait times and technical glitches. Voting problems have been attributed to slow networks, user confusion with the new balloting system, and, perhaps, an under-serving of L.A.’s most densely populated neighborhoods.
Over 650,000 votes were cast in person at L.A. County voting centers—more than half the total number of votes cast in the primary. In moves intended to make the process faster and easier, voting centers opened several days prior to the March 3 election, and the county did away with the old rule that required voters to go only to the facility designated for their home precinct. Nonetheless, many voters waited until Election Day to cast their ballots, and certain popular voting sites like the Santa Monica Public Library and Ace Hotel in downtown L.A. were overloaded.
On social media, voters reported wait times stretching to multiple hours.
— George McKinney (@georgemck) March 4, 2020
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years and have never seen such a debacle as this #SuperTuesday. It took me nearly three hours to vote in #Weho. You need to do better @LACountyRRCC. The whole process is riddled with problems. And only 2 people to check in voters! #LAVote pic.twitter.com/jPvfsxH2My
— Carey (@CareyGLY) March 4, 2020
In line with neighbors at Washington Irving Library. May be 3 hours in line by the time I get to vote. Looking behind me, the people have an hour to just get to where I am. Upside is I get to meet many nice neighbors who all value our right to vote. @latimes @nytimes @lavote
— Adam Bialow (@AdamBialow) March 4, 2020
— Sam GT (@samGT47) March 4, 2020
— Miss PB (@LastFlite2Paris) March 4, 2020
The $300 million system had been extensively tested in the development process, but when crowds appeared on Tuesday, certain features appeared unable to handle the load. Network connections were “sluggish,” according to the Washington Post, and at some sites machines sat unused due to a shortage of trained poll workers to check voters in quickly.
“We tried a lot of new things, and we’re going to need to make adjustments,” Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, told the Post. “It was not good timing to roll out all this new technology in a major election.”
Not everyone pins the blame for wait times on technology. Mike Dickerson, an organizer with local activist group Ktown for All, says his team saw few reports of technology issues on Tuesday. He suspects a greater problem lies with how voting centers and staff were distributed across L.A.
“The county did not adequately plan for the dense population of residents and workers in central L.A. locations. In Koreatown, an extremely dense neighborhood of over 100,000 residents, there were zero centrally located voting centers. The four nearby were on the edges of the neighborhood and difficult for some residents to access,” he says. “It was predictable that many people would be using these voting centers in dense neighborhoods on Election Day, but given the lines yesterday it’s unclear how the county made decisions about allocating staff and resources to dense locations.”
Going into November, Dickerson is hoping for more robust poll worker staffing and training—including greater understanding of the voting rights of those who lack traditional addresses—voting hours that are more convenient for the schedules of workers, bringing more 11-day voting centers into central L.A., and more investment in educating residents about how the new systems work.
“The new model was meant to make voting easier and more accessible, but for many people it added more barriers to voting,” he says. “If people are going to continue voting on Election Day, as Tuesday suggests they will, our infrastructure needs to be prepared for that.”
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