So You Want To Cast a Ballot?

It might be a couple of hours…
Sepulveda Rec Center, 4:23 pm

We reported to our normal polling station today,  with the familiar poll workers and trays of supermarket cookies and easy parking and the short lines, to find it…closed.   I was vaguely aware the L.A. county polling system was undergoing a few changes, including early voting, but I didn’t realize this meant the neighborhood polls had been consolidated in favor of regional ones.

So we drove a couple of miles north to the new location only to find a line snaking around the building and no parking.   We walked a few blocks, and settled in at the tail of the snake, fell into civic conversation with the people next to us, (one of them a refugee from the long lines at Sherman Oaks) and after about ten minutes…we noticed something: The line had not moved at all.   I followed the snake around the corner and into the gym to find a dozen unoccupied polling machines and two poll workers doing intake, issuing ballots. Slowly. Only two people were voting.

Someone vaguely authoritative announced it would be a two-hour wait, and we might have better luck at Sepulveda Middle School, up in Mission Hills.

Goodbye Chad. 

Exodus, take three. To Mission Hills we raced, and as promised, greeted by a mercifully short line. We also found ourselves standing next to the guy from Sherman Oaks, to our mutual amusement. At check-in, they issued a blank paper ballot with a QR code that you feed into the machine, then complete by touch screen.

No more chads. No more ink dot. Lots of gooey fingertips caressing the names, sharing cooties.   Bacteria and democracy together at last. Not a germaphobe, I found it both recklessly intimate and weirdly impersonal.  Our ballot may be secret, but a pandemic we can share.  Here is a dystopian movie plot just waiting to happen.

The machine prints your ballot, offering a moment to double-check your answers, then you “cast” it by reinserting it.  Under the new VSAP system, the ballot is read electronically but retains a paper backup in the event of a recount. Suspenders and a belt, in theory.  There is a bit of wrinkle, though.  Your vote is converted to QR code in order to be counted. See that matrix of pixels on the left side of the page?  Those are your choices, all of them, squeezed into a 1.5 inch grid of dots.  Do the dots and names match up?  Let us hope so.  Does the printer ink ever smear, even slightly, altering your intent?   Could you recognize your own name in QR code?

A few things to consider as you fall asleep while wondering if anyone from your precinct recently visited China.

12 thoughts on “So You Want To Cast a Ballot?”

  1. Long Time listener, first time caller. Came by way of Johnny @ Granola Shotgun.

    How long does it take to verify someone to vote in california? In PA if you’ve voted at a polling station before they are just confirming your signature doesnt look wildly off, if its your first time you bring your ID and they check that against the rolls. Longest its ever taken me at the table was 2 minutes when I moved and had a Address change paper form for my Drivers License that an old lady tried to tell me was not valid.

    1. At check in there is an electronic kiosk in the form of an iPad. They either scan the bar code on your paper voter guide or your driver’s license. In my case, the license, which pleased me as I approve of voter ID laws. Then you sign your name with a stylus. A faster system than the old one, where they manually scrolled through the giant plat book with a ruler. I think the problem with the first site was staffing. Only two poll workers at check in.

      1. I agree. I wish valid photo ID was mandatory every time, not just the first time at a new poll station, but prior to 2016 it was not required at all in PA.

  2. “No more chads. No more ink dot. Lots of gooey fingertips caressing the names, sharing cooties. Bacteria and democracy together at last. Not a germaphobe, I found it both recklessly intimate and weirdly impersonal. Our ballot may be secret, but a pandemic we can share. Here is a dystopian movie plot just waiting to happen.”

    That paragraph is worth the price of admission!

  3. California wants to be inclusive, so they create a system designed to be as difficult to access as possible, controlled by software designed by who? The company that ran the Iowa caucus, the well named “Shadow”?
    I voted for years at the school down the street. Now the vote center is a little farther away, requiring a car. So I just sent in the mail ballot supplied at great expense to everyone, regardless of need. Have the Democrat candidates dropped out after my vote was cast. Didn’t matter to me, cause I didn’t vote for any of them anyway.
    By the time of the general in November, I will be 2500 miles away in a small town by the Atlantic. I expect to make a pencil mark on paper, and this time my vote will count.

    1. The QR code is the fly in the ointment for me. I know we don’t think twice about relying on them for commerce but somehow this is different. Every ballot in American elections has relied on a check mark, a chad, or a dot in a box next to a name. Or writing the name in our own hand. Now we express our political will in machine language, a code none of us can read.

  4. All voting in Washington State is by mail-in paper ballot.
    You mark the little circles with a dark pen (black or blue).
    They are counted (hopefully correctly) by machine. but the
    actual ballots are kept in case of a recount. Seems simple to
    me but of course we don’t have 23 million like California.
    Good luck, guys and gals!

    1. Do you trust an election without polling stations? An all mail-in election gives too much power to postal employees, who are an interested party in federal matters. There is no chain of custody over ballots.

      1. I never considered that the mail would be tampered with in an organized manner. That thought is too dystopian, even for me!

        1. It’s not too difficult to calculate which neighborhoods cast the blue votes and which the red ones.

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