New LA Vote Centers generate mixed feedback from voters

A flag banner at Occidental College's voting center location. March 2020. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

LA County held primary elections for Democratic presidential candidates March 3. The ballot also included other races, including the LA City Council District 14 seat. Unlike in previous election cycles, LA County utilized a new digital voting system in an effort to increase voter turnout and accessibility. This was the first major election that the county used the Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) system, after a successful mock election in September allowed for voters to test-run the format. Occidental College participated in the Vote Center Placement Project, with the ground floor of the Herrick Interfaith Center serving as a location where people could register to vote, vote in multiple languages or drop off their mail-in ballots.

Unlike polling centers, these new vote centers allow for people to vote using touchscreen devices. The biggest change in the new vote centers is that they will no longer be based on home addresses. Instead, LA residents can go to any of the 1,000 vote centers to cast their ballot.

An instructional sign posted at Occidental College’s voting center location. March 2020. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

The vote centers are open for 10 days before Super Tuesday, which allowed for LA residents to cast their votes starting Feb. 22. However, voting early meant some people voted for presidential candidates that dropped out prior to Super Tuesday, according to Eagle Rock resident Bob Belli.

“I think early voting wasn’t necessary,” Eagle Rock resident Rebecca Lopez said via Facebook. “We just need a weekend head start and more polling places.”

Local Eagle Rock residents such as Debi Brosell Cachu, Silva Schaefer and Kim Marie Ochoa said they loved the new voting system and found it easy to use. According to April Snow Kass, another Eagle Rock resident, the new vote center at Eagle Rock Plaza was quick and straightforward. Snow Kass said the new system alleviated the confusion and congestion that results from residents having to vote at specific polling places based on their home district and address. Snow Kass and Silva Schaefer agreed that the volunteers at the new voting centers were terrific.

“They seemed very well-organized and well-trained,” Schafer said via Facebook. “They explained up front about the next button and also told Independents they could request a party ballot. It was a very smooth experience.”

A voting center staff member at Occidental College’s voting center location. March 2020. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

The new voting system allows for voters to hypothetically fill out their votes ahead of time on a smartphone and transfer their choices to the touch screen machines using a QR code. Isabel Aguilar, an Eagle Rock resident, said elderly people might not feel as comfortable voting on the new touchscreen systems.

This confusion is not unique to Eagle Rock. According to University of Southern California researchers, only 38 percent of LA voters knew about the new voting system in place for the presidential primaries.

According to local resident Rob Ho, inaccurate posted hours for vote centers and unclear voting instructions resulted in a time-consuming, frustrating experience. Ho said the new voting process requires inserting the paper ballot twice, ultimately leading to paper jams in the machines.

“That can be time consuming,” Ho said via Facebook. “Luckily, I was the only one [at the center].”

Eagle Rock resident Kinga Dorosz also had a frustrating voting experience at the San Rafael Library. Dorosz was given a provisional ballot because the center was unable to connect to the internet.

“It was my understanding that provisional ballots are not the way to go and might not get counted,” Dorosz said via Facebook. “I asked the poll workers and they had no idea either.”

Dorosz then left to vote at the Eagle Rock Community Center.

The voting center in Lower Herrick was also confusing to navigate for first time users, according to voter Leo Connelly ’19. Connelly said he walked in and was met with awkward silence from the staff member on sight. The staff member repeatedly told Connelly that it was illegal for her to tell him what to do at the center. According to Connelly, nearly half of the machines in Lower Herrick were broken.

“There’s no way this is actually working because they’re all broken,” Connelly said. “I don’t know how they’re counting them.”

Local resident Julia Baker was also concerned that her original vote was not properly cast. After waiting in line, Baker was told to cast her vote on an app prior to stepping into the new voting machines. According to Baker, the app was clunky and originally lost her vote selection, requiring her to recast it when she got to the machine.

“Even though it [the vote center] had a line, I was just happy to get through it and be able to vote,” Baker said.