LOS ANGELES (CN) – The LA County Board of Supervisors ordered an investigation Tuesday into the county’s voting system after Super Tuesday voters experienced hours-long delays to vote, poor communication from poll workers and broken ballot machines.
Over the last decade, county election officials invested at least $300 million in state-of-the-art voting machines touted as easy to use, safe from hacking and technology-driven while still offering residents a paper ballot after voting.
Officials also expanded voting to an 11-day period and scrapped the precinct system in favor of allowing residents to cast ballots at any of hundreds of vote centers around the county.
With real-time connection to a state election database, residents would also have the opportunity to register to vote on the same day they entered any voting center.
The new “Voting Solutions for All People” system was meant to increase voter participation and make ballot-casting accessible to a wider range of residents.
But Super Tuesday voters reported low-staffing at vote centers, unclear communication from officials about precinct centers being scrapped, broken and unfixable ballot machines and poll workers unable to complete same-day registration.
What began as a seemingly flawless voting process – with early morning voters reporting no issues – quickly spiraled into chaos as social media feeds were flooded with images of massive lines of voters waiting to enter underprepared vote centers.
What went wrong in the execution of the plan during California’s Democratic primary will be uncovered in a probe ordered by county supervisors at a board meeting Tuesday.
Supervisor Janice Hahn said voters told her office that vote centers lacked disability access, poll workers were not properly trained – in one instance a worker requested to see a voter’s ID – and that volunteers worked more than 18 hours.
“Voting is so fundamental, so precious and so important,” Hahn said. “I know it was a new system, but it seemed like we spent a lot of time testing these new machines but did not prepare for the onslaught of voters on election day.”
Hahn said the county should determine whether or not to keep in place the 11-day voting period, instead suggesting it move to a four-day block.
Following the election day problems, California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla blasted county election officials and called for vote-by-mail ballots to be delivered to every registered voter.
But Hahn said mail-in ballots may not solve the county’s problems and that it remains unclear how much it would cost to do so.
The county’s probe should uncover whether anyone was turned away from a vote center and whether anyone who left a three or four-hour long line to vote lost their chance to turn in a ballot, Hahn said.
“If we found out voter suppression happened, that’s very serious and I’m sorry it happened,” Hahn said. “I’m sorry it happened on my watch. I know, myself, I’ve lost confidence.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she supports doubling the amount of vote centers and said expanded vote-by-mail would offer a vital option for anyone too afraid to vote in-person as the outbreak of the coronavirus continues nationally.
“I would encourage vote-by-mail for everyone,” Kuehl said. “I think the prediction about the [coronavirus] will scare people from going out.”
LA County Registrar Dean Logan, who is in charge of the county’s voting system, apologized to supervisors for the voting issues and said he would welcome an independent probe of the county’s election apparatus.
Logan said lines of voters extended rapidly countywide after breakdowns with the check-in process at poll sites.
Devices used by vote center volunteers failed or were never turned, Logan said, adding that the state’s election database also failed numerous times, further delaying the voting process.
“I believe the voting model is a sound model,” Logan told the board members. “The system we built is also solid. The implementation of that and capacity to deliver on a solid model was lacking and it has to be addressed.”
The five-member board unanimously approved a motion to probe election day issues.
According to the motion, at least 17,000 residents did not receive their vote-by-mail ballots by election day on March 3.