L.A.’s Voting Center Nightmare: What Went Wrong?

As County News reported last week, L.A.’s experiment with voting centers did not go smoothly. Reports of confusion and errors abound. Some voters waited in lines up to three hours long.

Supervisor Janice Hahn has called for an investigation. But already, we’re learning about what may have gone wrong.

The groundwork for L.A. County’s experiment was laid by the 2016 Voter’s Choice Act which, among other things, moves counties away from the neighborhood polling center model and allows them to cast their votes anywhere in their county. There are currently 15 participating counties, but none seem to have experienced the problems L.A. encountered on March 3.

As the Los Angeles Times notes, “Los Angeles County was given special treatment... allowing officials to close polling places without mailing a ballot to every voter.” In other VCA counties, every voter received a mail-in ballot, which reduced the number of voters at physical polls.

“L.A. County appealed to the Legislature for special treatment and they got it,” said an angry Secretary of State, Alex Padilla. However, Padilla raised no objections about the exemption at the time.

The provision exempting L.A. from the mail-in requirement is set to expire in 2024. But after Tuesday’s fiasco, it looks likely to be killed before November. Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), who sponsored the 2016 law, will introduce a bill requiring L.A. to either send mail-in ballots to all voters or increase the number of voting centers for the next election.

“I regret not having pushed harder on L.A. County last time around,” Allen said. “And I’m trying to fix things with this bill.”

For voter confidence, it may be too little, too late.

“People have lost confidence, people feel disenfranchised,” Lancaster Mayor R. rex Parris told the Times. “The best way to increase malaise is to make people feel like you’re manipulating the election.”

Parris was one of thousands of people in Lancaster, Sunland-Tujunga and other regions that never received their mail-in ballots or got them late due to a vendor error.

Recent comments by L.A. County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan may do little to quell the unease. He said the requirements Senator Allen is promising would be difficult to comply with.

“The logistics and capacity for election administration in Los Angeles County are complex and demanding,” said Logan. “ Expansion of vote by mail should be explored to determine its viability in the short timeframe ahead of the November election, but more is required.”

If you’re a voter in L.A. County, create a game plan now.