Though all California voters will receive a vote-by-mail ballot, Los Angeles County officials Tuesday stressed that hundreds of voting centers will still be needed and urged school districts and cities to help identify locations.
A high-tech voting system and a global pandemic mean that voting centers this year have a whole new set of requirements. Gone are the days when voters might be directed to a neighbor’s garage or senior living facility to ink in a paper ballot.
The county is looking for big, airy spaces — perhaps even outdoors — where voters committed to casting their ballot in person can easily maintain distance from fellow voters. Electronic poll books and voting mechanisms also require reliable, wireless, high-speed internet access.
Not to mention that school districts may not be enthusiastic about lining up to have hundreds of residents funnel through their gymnasium in the midst of an ongoing health crisis, when students may or may not be attending school.
“Considering the ongoing pandemic, there are additional and very serious health concerns around having any large gatherings of people that’s made it even more difficult than usual to secure vote centers,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told her colleagues.
Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that his team was focusing on the quality versus the quantity of voting facilities
“We are in active dialogues with the Secretary of State’s Office and other entities looking at very large, high-profile locations like sports arenas and convention centers” for the early voting days prior to Election Day and then planning to open up a broader network of centers in the four to five days before Nov. 3.
“We are … focusing on the quality of our vote centers over the quantity,” though the county will “far exceed the minimum” number of centers required,” Logan said, emphasizing safety first.
Logan highlighted the need for public facilities to come on board.
“We really need the cooperation and assistance from our schools,” Logan said.
Even vote-by-mail operations require space to spread out. The county has rented 75,000 square feet in two exposition halls at Fairplex in Pomona to manage operations and storage of election materials through the end of December, at a monthly cost of $125,000.
Supervisor Janice Hahn said the county needs to be prepared for both a ramped-up vote-by-mail response and voters determined to vote in person. Voters will also have the option to drop off a mail-in ballot at drop boxes or voting centers.
During the March 2020 primary, voters encountered long lines due to both glitches with the electronic poll books used to check in voters and a mistaken assumption that few polling places would be necessary because voters had 11 days leading up the election to vote. The vast majority of voters waited until Election Day to cast their ballot, though the pandemic could well change that pattern.
A lack of training and insufficient staffing were also cited in after-election reports on what went wrong.
“The county has always depended on an army of volunteers to staff their vote centers and their polling locations,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl and Hahn co-authored a motion recommending that the county train its own employees to staff vote centers this year, noting that all county workers are already designated as disaster service workers because of the pandemic. Interested volunteers will still have the opportunity to participate, according to Kuehl.
The board’s vote in favor of the change was unanimous.
Hahn encouraged voters to use the vote-by-mail option.
“Your ballot box could be your mailbox this year,” Hahn said.