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.
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.