State OKs county’s new voting system for November

A woman casts her ballot in a voting voting booth at the Castaic Regional Sports Complex in Castaic on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Ahead of the November election, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced he conditionally certified Los Angeles County’s new version of its voting system, after a report found multiple issues with the March primary election, prompting changes to improve operations. 

This year, the county pushed out its Voting Solutions for All People, or VSAP, to replace the former system with touchscreen voting and provided voters with multiple locations to cast their ballots, as well as offer them a voting period of 11 days.

“Since the first VSAP system was certified in January, my staff has been in constant contact with L.A. County about improvements for this new version,” said Padilla in a statement. “Our testing team has been hard at work for months to verify changes and certify the 2.1 system.” 

The system’s “2.1” version includes both technical and security improvements from the 2.0 model. 

For example, some Santa Clarita Valley voters expressed concerns in March over nearly missing some candidates due to the layout not displaying all the candidates in one location on the screens. In November, voters should expect to see a gray background added to the “more” button to draw voters’ eyes and alert them of additional candidates to view before marking their selection. 

Paper jamming also improved from a rate of 0.096% to 0.0002% after the new version underwent program changes so it could mee the state requirement that ballot handling issues occur in less than 0.0002% of cases, according to the certification. 

With the switch to digital ballots, voters also voiced concern over possible hacking and a lack of security. 

While computers are not connected to the internet, the state approved the county’s implementation of extra levels of security, such as limiting passwords and secure access to the back end of the system to employees on an “as-needed basis” only. The use of locks and tamper-evident seals, including USB port covers, ballot marking devices and county computer workstations to enhance security were also approved. 

In unveiling VSAP, the county promised to publicly release the voting system’s source code so that outside experts could examine it but officials failed to do so, which has prompted the state to approve the 2.1 version under the condition that it provides a plan to make the source code available and open to the public in a manner that is safe and secure for all voters.

The conditional approval comes after the independent review of the March primary election found issues pertaining to faulty e-poll books, staffing shortages, a lack of training and poor technology vendor management, which “led to long wait times and a poor voter experience during the election,” read the report by Slalom LLC, which interviewed 50 vote center workers and surveyed more than 250 voters. 

While the changes are expected to ease the voting experience, Padilla said he is encouraging voters to cast their ballots early this fall. 

“I also recognize that technology is only as effective as its deployment and use,” said Padilla. “After Angelenos experienced long lines at some vote centers during the Primary Election, I called for the county to mail every voter a ballot and address logistical issues with the deployment of vote centers.”

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