Our View | On Voting, Change and Human Procrastination

By The Signal Editorial Board

People don’t like change. They don’t like waiting in line, either. It’s no surprise, then, that there were some unhappy folks in L.A. County on Election Day.

We had a new system of voting, using touchscreen machines to fill out ballots instead of the old card system. We had fewer polling places, with new voting centers throughout the county.

The idea was, get more people to vote by expanding the window of opportunity and adding new, easy-to-use technology. To an extent that backfired, because in increasing the voting period to 11 days but at the same time decreasing the number of polling places, the county left many voters frustrated and confused. You couldn’t walk to your neighborhood polling place anymore, because the vote centers were more spread out.

On Tuesday night, we had long lines  as people queued up, some waiting two hours or more to exercise their right to participate in America’s representative democracy.

And they were ticked off.

Voters were asked to accept change. Then they ended up waiting in line as they participated in that change. It was a double whammy.

There’s already been some fallout. Much of it, frankly, has been a little too knee-jerk for our taste.

Before the dust settled from Super Tuesday, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a statement criticizing L.A. County’s election process. 

“For the vast majority of California voters, the voting experience was positive,” the statement said. “But in Los Angeles County, too many voters faced unacceptably long wait times. Voters who waited patiently for hours deserve our praise for their commitment to democracy. Voters deserve better.”

Then, Padilla put the baby in the bath water and tossed them both out the window: “I am calling on Los Angeles County to mail every registered voter a ballot for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election in addition to improving the performance of vote centers.”

L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan fired back, issuing a statement of his own: “Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a statement today criticizing election administration in Los Angeles County and calling on the county to send a vote-by-mail ballot to every voter for the November election… 

“In our ongoing commitment to improving the elections process and addressing deficiencies, I will include in my report on the election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors analysis specifically addressing the recommendation to mail a vote-by-mail ballot to every voter in November. In doing so, it is important to note that a broader evaluation and assessment of resources and capacity specific to Los Angeles County is needed.” 

Logan is right. What L.A. County needs now is a careful analysis of what worked, and what didn’t — not a snap decision that will incur massive, unnecessary additional costs to mail a bunch of ballots to people who won’t use them.

At first blush, here’s what worked: 

The new voting machines got generally good reviews. Even many of those who were initially skeptical about the technology described it as easy to use.

For some, the new vote centers improved convenience, since one no longer must go to a specific polling place. It makes it easier to vote, for example, if you’re at work, in a location not close to home. 

And, for many, the new 11-day voting window enabled them to vote at their convenience, without waiting in line if they chose to vote early. 

That gets us to the real crux of the problem: A big factor that led to the long lines wasn’t so much the system, but human behavior. You don’t have to vote in the final two hours, but a lot of people do.

People procrastinate. It’s human nature. And, some people like that physical experience of going to the polls and casting a ballot in person, rather than by mail. Hence, the Tuesday night logjam.

On Tuesday night, some vote centers were virtually deserted. Others had lines stretching around the block. Clearly there are refinements to be made. On a gut level, it seems the county ought to add more voting machines and vote centers. The 11-day window seems like overkill, though. Perhaps a three- or five-day window could accomplish the same purpose.

There’s a balance to be struck: Voting should be accessible and convenient, and the county shouldn’t stop trying to make the system better, but voter expectations should be realistic, too. If you don’t want to wait in line, choose the right place and time to vote. 

And, if you still have to wait in line because you chose to show up at a crowded vote center an hour before the polls close, that’s on you. 

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