Signal Hill Public Library hosts new digital voting-station demo through Nov. 23


Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune

At the Signal Hill Public Library on Nov. 6, Fenny Ruffino, a representative of LA County’s community and voter outreach, demonstrates how to cast a ballot with a smartphone QR code using the county’s new digital voting station.

Excuses for not exercising the right to vote are shrinking fast. Beginning in February 2020, LA County will increase the voting window to 11 days rather than a single day and allow residents to vote at any of 1,000 polling places in the county, not just one.

It will also increase the number of polling places and employ new digital-voting stations, or ballot-marking devices (BMD) to make casting ballots faster and easier.

Folks can try out one such station at the Signal Hill Public Library community room through Nov. 23. Fenny Ruffino, a representative of Los Angeles County’s community and voter outreach, said that Voting Solution for All People’s (VSAP) new guidelines and system are designed to help increase voter turnout, and that she’s already guided more than 40 visitors through the process this week.

The first step a voter takes is the same as before– registering with a county representative at a polling place. But instead of finding your name in a bulky roll book, the representative will use an electronic “poll pad” to look you up and print out a ballot, which you then take over to an individual voting station, just like before. The e-poll books will also allow same-day voter registration.

At the station, instead of punching a card, you will use a digital screen to first select your preferred language from among 13 choices and then vote for candidates and measures by pressing the screen with your finger. You can even type in the name of a write-in candidate.

And if folks need visual or audio aid, they can also find that on a pad to the left of the screen along with headphones to use. Voters can also use change the screen’s font size or request help from an election worker.

When you’re done voting, you can review your selections before inserting your paper ballot into a scanner to right of the screen, which will print your choices on the ballot. You can then review your printed choices before casting the ballot by submitting it into the same scanner. Your completed ballot will be dropped into a box behind the station.

“You’re allowed to reject or cancel up to three times,” Ruffino said.

When the box is full of about 250 ballots, an election worker will replace it, first locking the full box with a coded yellow strip. Ruffino explains that votes are still submitted by paper rather than electronically to prevent potential tampering or hacking. The stations are only connected to a power outlet, not the internet, she said.

Ruffino also demonstrated how you can make your voting choices beforehand online, get a QR (quick response) code for your mobile device and simply scan the code at the voting station to generate your printed ballot.

As before, a citizen can also vote by mail (VBM) but with what VSAP describes as a more user-friendly, easier-to-understand ballot. Those ballots can be mailed or taken to any drop-off location in the county.
All ballots will then be tallied using image-processing technology, which VSAP says allows for a more open and transparent counting process.

“The improved system will capture and store ballot images, tally both BMD and VBM ballots and ensure accurate reporting of results,” according to VSAP.

VSAP also says the new system has a higher capacity to accommodate more contests and candidate names.
“The new Ballot Marking Device (BMD) was designed to be modular and scalable, allowing components of the BMD to be replaced or enhanced as technology evolves,” VSAP said.

BMDs are also more accessible than the old system in terms of languages and disabilities and includes higher security standards that the California Secretary of State wants implemented before the March 3, 2020 presidential primary election, VSAP says.

Voters can start casting ballots for that election beginning Saturday, Feb. 22, according to Ruffino, which is 11 days before March 3. She added that polling places will have anywhere from 15 to 50 BMDs, depending on space, though she didn’t yet know where those polling sites will be.

“So everybody who lives in LA,” Ruffino said, “they can vote at any polling place, any voting center in the county.”

There goes folks’ last excuse.