Election Day: How LA plans to avoid tech problems and coronavirus contagion

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The general election is less than 100 days away. State and county officials are trying to get residents ready to vote — with not just a new system but during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring that each county send vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters. The GOP in California has tried to legally block that order, a move Republican strategist Mike Madrid opposes.

All the while, LA County is in a major voting transition. During the March 3 primary, LA residents had to go to polling centers rather than neighborhood polling places. In addition, voters had to use technology, like iPads, that had not been adequately tested beforehand. This led to long lines and disgruntled voters.

“It was quite a time, and there was a lot that we learned in that experience and a lot that needs to be repaired and prepared as we head into the November election,” says LA County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan. 

KCRW: Many registered voters recently received a letter in the mail making sure their address is correct. Some even received sample ballots. What are you trying to do at this point?

Dean Logan: “This mailing was to make sure that we have your correct address, so when we mail those ballots in early October, we have a high rate of confidence that those are going to voters at the correct address.”

How early can you vote in LA County?

“Vote-by-mail ballots will go in the mail on October 5, and voters can begin voting those ballots immediately. 

You can send it back in the mail. You can drop off your ballot at one of over 300 drop-off boxes throughout the county. You can drop that ballot off at any of the in-person voting locations that will be open prior to and on Election Day.”

President Trump has repeatedly lamented about the security of voting by mail. How do you respond to that? 

“It's unfortunate that that kind of narrative is coming from the president of the United States. 

Given the history of vote-by-mail in this country, there is no data to back up the allegation that he's making. Vote-by-mail ballots are subject to signature verification when they come back to our office. If that signature doesn't match, that ballot cannot be counted. We reach out to the voter, notify them, and give them the opportunity to correct that. 

[Trump] is discouraging people from taking advantage of the security and access that vote-by-mail provides. And it's frustrating because that becomes, in some ways, a form of voter suppression.”

Can the U.S. Postal Service handle the extraordinary number of mail-in ballots?

“That's a capacity question that we all need to pay close attention to. The USPS has been under great demand and has faced financial stress over the past several years. And in some cases, that has affected the delivery time frame.

As long as your vote-by-mail ballot is postmarked on or before Election Day, we can receive it up to 17 days after the election.”

Voting centers: There were major problems with wait times and technology. Why did that happen, and what are you doing to address it?

“There was a capacity issue. Some of that had to do with testing, in particular the electronic poll books, which are the mechanisms that allow for any voter to go to any location to cast their ballot. 

That system did not perform as it was intended to, and there's a series of corrective actions being taken.

We did not see the number of voters go out and vote during that early voting period that we had anticipated, and that resulted in larger groups of voters showing up on Election Day. And we did not have the human capacity and the technical capacity to meet the demand in a timely manner. 

As far as a voting experience, we know that those wait times and those concerns with the check-in process are unacceptable and have to be ironed out before the November election.

In LA, we conducted a full investigation immediately after the election, identifying the root causes: the issues of capacity with the electronic poll books, the sizes of the vote centers. There were at least 47 different things identified in our report, and we have a corrective action plan that is being implemented right now.”

The pandemic adds another layer of difficulty. How do you plan to keep people safe in November?

“We will be looking for and booking vote centers in larger locations, so that we can have the physical distancing. We will be requesting that all voters wear a face covering. We will have disinfectant, disposable face coverings, and gloves available for voters at those vote centers. 

We will be disinfecting the equipment after each use. 

And we'll be equipping our election workers with similar equipment to make sure they're safe as well.”

On a scale from one to 10, how ready are you for the November election? 

“We're probably in the six to seven range, with a solid action plan to get us to that nine to 10 range that we need to be at when we open those locations.

These are conditions that we haven't dealt with before. I'm just being realistic about the work ahead.”