Politics

LA County's $13M touch-screen voting system gets previewed at Austin's SXSW

A mock-up image of what Los Angeles County's new voting system will look like. Rollout is expected by 2020.
A mock-up image of what Los Angeles County's new voting system will look like. Rollout is expected by 2020.
Los Angeles County

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Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan presented his much-anticipated voting makeover project this week at South by Southwest Eco, an offshoot of the famous music festival in Austin, Texas. 

The conference is a flocking ground of sorts for new products and technology that focus on social change.

"South by Southwest was a great platform for us to come and share this specifically from a design element," Logan said. "We felt like it was very well-received."

Since 2009, the county has been working on a major elections revamp that, if fully implemented, will allow voters to mark their choices using touchscreen devices, submit ballots via smart phones and vote on one of several days.

They will also have options like customizing their ballot's font size and choosing a ballot from several languages. Plus, electronic sample ballots will allow voters to scan in their pre-chosen selections at the polls just as travelers can have their boarding passes scanned at the airport. The new voting system will still create a paper trail, as required by state law. 

Logan presented the project at SXSW Eco with Matt Adams from IDEO, the design firm hired for the project. 

The new voting system began as an idea back in 2009 and has cost $8.9 million so far. That price tag will rise to $13 million in the coming months. 

Officials plan to pilot the system beginning in 2018 and then fully roll it out to voters in 2020. Logan said the project is on schedule. A request for competitive bids covering manufacturing and piloting the system will likely begin early next summer.  

The overhaul has its critics. One piece of the new plan would rely more heavily on mail-in ballots and reduce the places to vote by consolidating poll locations. Voters, however, would no longer have to vote only at one poll location. There's a bill making its way through the state legislature that would make that possible. 

Still, some worry the plan could cause problems for those with mobility issues if they need to travel longer distances to vote. 

With voter turnout in decline and its population growing more diverse, Los Angeles County needs to vastly improve the way its citizens vote, according to Logan.

"There’s just sort of been a belief that, you know, you set it up and if voters are interested they will come. I think what we’re learning today is that we have to make voting relevant," he said. 

During the November 2014 general election, L.A. County recorded a 33.42 percent turnout rate and in the Los Angeles' general municipal election in May, just 9.71 percent of voters turned out.

In district 7, school board member Richard Vladovic was elected with just 10,276 votes. The seven-person school board controls an $8 billion budget and serves more than 650,000 students. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the representative from IDEO who presented the voting project alongside L.A. County's Dean Logan.