County officials are working to avoid long lines and confusion that were prevalent in the March primary—and that social distancing measures are in place—ahead of the November general election, which will still include in-person voting.
Those revelations were part of a report this week by a top county election official to the Long Beach Election Oversight Committee about how the first few Long Beach elections using the county’s new $300 million voting system unfolded.
Monica Flores, an executive assistant to LA County Registrar-Recorder Clerk Dean Logan, said that the problems experienced on Election Day originated from a confluence of factors that included equipment failure, some polling workers not showing up to work and other venue-related issues.
Flores said that despite an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom requiring a vote-by-mail ballot be sent to every registered voter in the state and the Los Angeles County Supervisors approving a plan to do so, the county would still have in-person voting available.
She said November’s election would likely have more drop-off locations for vote-by-mail ballots, possibly doubling the 200 locations that were available in March. However, the county has yet to determine if it would increase the number of in-person voting stations from the 978 locations it had during the March primary.
“I can’t clearly say if it will increase or not but what we want to make sure that the vote centers that are in place are bigger and can hold more ballot marking devices,” Flores said. “While we’re unsure of if the number of locations will increase, the number of devices will.”
Flores said that the bottlenecks experienced at polling places across the county were mostly due to the check-in process, not the voting machines. According to a county survey after the March election, about 15% of voters said they waited over 2 hours in line.
Of the 1 million voters who voted in person, 73% did so on election day despite the additional 10-day window they had to vote anywhere in the county. With an uncertain future involving a possible second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, it’s likely that more people could vote by mail, which could decrease wait times.
But for those who do vote in person, Flores said that stations will be sanitized after each voter, social distancing measures will be put in place and gloves will be available at the request of individual voters.
Some things Flores said the county is looking at include ensuring that all poll workers are properly trained as well as trying to limit worker fatigue by reassessing time commitments for each worker—some of whom worked 12-hour days and manned stations for the full 11-day windows.
Another problem in March was that operators of venues for vote centers changed the agreed-upon rooms that could be used. Officials will seek help from the County Board of Supervisors to gain better compliance from both public and private sites for the November election.
Those locations, while they may not increase in number, could be larger in size as the county tries to create enough room to safely social distance voters who opt to cast their ballots in person.
The county will also outsource the vote center setup process, something that could take as long as four days to complete.
“Our department does not have the capacity to deploy all of the vote center equipment in time to be set up by the time the vote centers need to be opened,” Flores said.
Third-party operators could be used to both set up the vote centers in November as well as operate call centers used in March for IT help, something that contributed to excessive wait times.
Flores said that the county was still looking to further address the “More” button issue, which was the focus of a lawsuit by the city of Beverly Hills earlier this year. Measures could be taken to make it more visible or incorporate a pop-up menu to alert voters that not all candidates have been scanned through prior to their selection being made.
Officials also discussed a separate lawsuit stemming from Long Beach’s Measure A recount after it passed by a 16-vote margin. The recount for the measure, which permanently increased the city’s sales tax, ended after the projected cost exceeded $200,000.
Prior to Flores’ report, Councilwoman Stacy Mungo raised concerns over how the city’s partnership with the county had contributed to steep recount costs that could prohibit ordinary residents from requesting them in the future.
While not explicitly saying that the city should seek to break away from the county’s election hosting model, she said that recounts were an important part of the process that could be a “necessity to people’s belief in the system” and that having locally controlled recounts in the past have ensured that the will of the people was carried out.
The November election will be hosted by the county.
The last day to register to vote is Oct. 19 and vote centers will open Oct. 24.
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