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Attention Angelenos: The Way You Vote Is Changing

One of L.A. County's new voting machines displaying "mock election" options. (Kyle Grillot for LAist)

Has this week's political turbulence put you in a voting mood? Here's a way to flex your civic muscles.

The primary election next year is the first time Angelenos will cast ballots under a brand-new model, one that includes state-of-the art equipment, an updated design for mail-in ballots and new locations for in-person voting.

It's a major shift for roughly 5.3 million L.A. County voters — and it's coming up fast. L.A.'s "Voting Solutions for All People" system debuts at the March 3rd primary.

But you don't have to wait until 2020 to check it out. The county is holding a "mock election" this weekend for voters who want to try out the new process.

Beginning Saturday morning, mock election sites will be open at parks, schools and libraries around Los Angeles.

  • WHAT: L.A. County "Mock Election" to try out new voting technology
  • WHEN: Saturday Sept. 28 and Sunday Sept. 29, 10 AM to 4 PM
  • WHERE: 50 locations across Los Angeles

The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder's website has more information, including a map to find a mock-election site near you. There's even a promise of food trucks and prizes!

No, you don't have to be 18 to cast a practice ballot. "Everyone, including kids, are welcome to come out," said Julane Whalen with L.A. County Registrar-Recorder's office. "Our goal is to make this a fun, family-friendly outreach event."

Dean Logan, L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, explains the new voting machines and process during a mock election in Norwalk, California, Monday, September 16, 2019. (Kyle Grillot for LAist)

WHERE DO I VOTE NOW?

The biggest change for in-person voters is that the familiar election Tuesday trip to a neighborhood polling place is likely going away.

Instead, voters will be able to stop by any regional vote center in the county for up to 10 days before the election. That means the first L.A. County vote centers will open Feb. 22.

The vote centers will also be a place to drop off your mail-in ballot, register to vote (even on the day of the election), get help voting in multiple languages and get a replacement vote-by-mail ballot if yours is lost or destroyed.

What's not clear: Where exactly the approximately 1,000 Los Angeles vote centers will be located. After months of public meetings and gathering input from community groups, the county is still assessing potential locations.

HOW WILL THE PROCESS WORK WHEN I WALK INTO THE VOTE CENTER??

Voting in-person isn't going to feel like filling out a standardized test with bubbles and ink anymore. L.A. County has been developing new voting machines since 2009, and the Registrar-Recorder's office says its ballot-marking devices are custom-designed to be easy to use, secure and accessible.

At the center of the new ballot-marking device is a touchscreen tablet that looks a lot like an iPad. It also features tactile buttons and headphones for people who require choices read out loud.

Voters can choose to mark their ballot in over a dozen languages.

To prevent hacking, voting machines are not connected to the internet. Voters will make their selections on the touchscreen, print out their choices and review them before officially casting their ballot.

If it sounds confusing, this video may help:

Some election security watchers have criticized L.A.'s move to using ballot-marking devices for everyone, arguing voters hand-marking their ballots with a pen is the only surefire way to prevent tampering.

Also rolling out: a new interactive sample ballot that comes as an app on your phone, so you can study up on candidates and measures. When you're ready, the app generates a "poll pass" in the form of a QR code to bring in to the vote center. Voters will scan that code at a ballot-marking machine and print out an official ballot.

For the less tech-savvy voter, the Registrar-Recorder has a hand-dandy video on how to use an interactive sample ballot here.

A "Poll Pass" code created by the new interactive sample ballots available in L.A. County for the March 3rd primary election. (Kyle Grillot for LAist)

WHAT IF I VOTE BY MAIL?

Then you're among the majority of Californians who prefer to fill their ballots out at home and pop them in the mail or drop them off in-person. Nearly two-thirds of the state's voters chose this option in the 2018 general election.

Vote-by-mail ballots will begin being mailed out 29 days before the election. For the 2020 primary, that's February 3rd (the same day as the Iowa Caucuses, if you're keeping score).

Unlike most counties implementing the Voter's Choice Act in 2020, L.A. is exempt from having to mail an absentee ballot to every voter. So if you haven't already registered as a permanent vote-by-mail voter, you still have to request a mail-in-ballot from the Registrar-Recorder's office. You can do that here.

As of last year, postage is prepaid on return envelopes for California vote-by-mail ballots.

You'll also still have the option to drop off your ballot in person at a secure drop box location, or one of the new vote centers.

REMIND ME, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

California's legislature passed the Voters Choice Act in 2016, which allowed counties across the state to choose to implement the new vote center model.

L.A. County's new voting machines will replace the traditional pen-and-ink ballot marking method. (Kyle Grillot for LAist/Kyle Grillot)

For the 2018 midterms, five counties switched to a Voter's Choice Act system: Sacramento, Nevada, Madera, Napa and San Mateo.

This change isn't without controversy. A 2017 poll showed the majority of California voters who were surveyed disliked the idea of replacing neighborhood polling places with vote centers. This feeling was most pronounced among African American voters.

Turnout concerns may be a factor. Other voters may be mourning the loss of a civic tradition — visiting the churches, school cafeterias or living rooms they've been voting in for years. Some are worried about access for the mobility-challenged, or people who don't have cars and are accustomed to walking a few blocks in their neighborhood to vote.

Results from counties that were early adopters of the Voter's Choice Act system have been largely positive. Elections officials in Sacramento, San Mateo, Napa and Madera said the vote center model appears to have boosted turnout in the 2018 midterm election — though a study by California election researchers found the boost to be a modest 3% compared to the midterm four years earlier. The overall effect was also hard to measure during a high-interest election that saw Democratic turnout surge across the country.

The new model has cut costs, according to county registrars that rolled out the Voter's Choice Act in 2018. They reported hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars saved.