Hours-long waits greeted voters at numerous vote centers across Los Angeles County Tuesday evening in the first election with widespread use of an electronic balloting system, prompting county Registrar-Recorder County Clerk Dean Logan to apologize to voters and note that “there’s a lot to be learned.”
Some voters reported waits of 90 minutes to two hours at some vote centers, and long lines persisted beyond the 8 p.m. closing time of the polls. Under state law, however, anyone who was in line before 8 p.m. was permitted to vote. But given the delays, long lines were still visible outside some vote centers as late as 10 p.m.
The problems prompted the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to file emergency paperwork in federal court asking that all Los Angeles County vote centers remain open until 10 p.m. — allowing anyone who is line by 10 p.m. to vote.
Logan said the county explored that option but opted to stick with the 8 p.m. cutoff, saying they believed people were already in line by that time.
Logan told reporters Tuesday night that the main technical problem at polling places was the electronic check-in system, which is used to ensure voters only cast one ballot at one location. He said once people got beyond that check-in, the actual voting system worked smoothly.
The problem with the new system — switching away from roughly 4,000 one-day precincts to about 1,000 vote centers open for 11 days — boiled down to too few people taking advantage of the early voting and inadequate distribution of the vote centers themselves. Only about 250,000 people took advantage of the early voting opportunity.
“I think that we perhaps overestimated how many of those voters would take advantage of the 10-day early voting period and that resulted in a significant amount of voters turning out on election day,” Logan said. “And then the distribution of the vote centers themselves I think is something we need to look closely at as well. We know there are portions of the county where the (centers) functioned quite well today, but there were other places — in particular in downtown L.A., Santa Monica, Carson and also particularly at our college campuses, where for the first time ever we had voting available on the campuses and where voters could actually register to vote and vote on the same day, which is a great service but it’s difficult to plan for the capacity of that.”
In its federal court papers, the Sanders campaign argued that there were “extreme wait times” at various polling locations, “including wait times up to four hours to cast a ballot.” The campaign contended that a failure to keep the vote centers open for an extra two hours would “immediately and irreparably” harm county voters’ “right to participate in our democracy.”
Tuesday’s election was the county’s first exclusive use of a Voting Solutions for All People system of casting ballots, relying on electronic touch-screen voting at nearly 1,000 vote centers.
The Sanders campaign argued that some polling places had multiple voting machines fail, exacerbating the wait times.
Some voters told reporters at various polling places that they had waited as long as 90 minutes to two hours to cast a ballot. Long lines were still seen at some polling places even as the 8 p.m. closing time passed.
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