Orange County registrar demonstrates new $15.3 million voting system aimed at preventing errors and fraud

Casting a ballot in one of Orange County’s new vote centers in 2020 is expected to take just three simple steps: check in at any of nearly 200 locations up to 11 days before the election, print a personalized ballot for your precinct regardless of where you show up to vote, and feed the completed ballot into a machine that scans it to be tallied on election night.

That’s the plan Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley outlined Monday, Sept. 16, when he demonstrated a new $15.3 million voting system in a mock-up of the voting centers the county will deploy beginning with the March 2020 primary.

A demonstration vote center at the OC Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana on Monday, September 16, 2019. The new vote centers will replace the vote-by-precinct system com 2020. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
The vote centers won’t be vastly different from traditional neighborhood polling stations – trained election workers will check people in and help those who need it – but the paper-based voting system is expected to be more convenient and secure, and to cut dramatically the number of provisional ballots used, Kelley said. That will mean faster results on election night and hopefully, less uncertainty and confusion for voters.

“This really focuses on the voter experience. It’s about what’s easier on the voter,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the new system from Hart InterCivic, which replaces one that dates to 2003, will be consistent: every registered voter will get a ballot in the mail, but if they decide to vote in person, the ballot printed for them at any of the 188 vote centers will look the same as the mail ballot.

Unlike older voting machines that provided a paper receipt for a ballot cast electronically – possibly with the data rendered as a bar code – Orange County’s new system is based around hard-copy ballots that can be easily read or recounted by humans, Kelley said. Ballots can be filled out the old-fashioned way, with a pen, or on a touch-screen machine that prints out the finished product.

Tablets used for voter check-in will connect wirelessly to each other so election officials can be alerted if someone tries to vote more than once in different locations. But the data on the tablets is encrypted for security – and to minimize any hacking risk, they’re not connected to the machines that record people’s votes, Kelley said.

Voters feed their own completed ballots into a scanner, which spots problems such as blank contests or too many boxes filled in and offers a chance to correct them.

Nearly 50,000 people tried a voting center pilot project in 2018 and most really liked it, Kelley said. He also pointed to Colorado, which mails a ballot to every registered voter (something Kelley also will bring to Orange County in 2020) but saw in-person voting rise with the advent of similar vote centers.

Voting rights advocates have criticized states and counties for closing some precinct polls, but Kelley said Orange County’s switch from more than 1,000 neighborhood polling places to 188 vote centers won’t disenfranchise people. Everyone will have the option to vote by mail, and vote centers will be open for at least four days – and some nearly three times that long.

“Now you have 11 days, now you have the weekends,” he said. “Now you can vote anywhere in the county.”

Kelley said he will finalize locations for the vote centers, as well as 110 ballot drop boxes by Dec. 6. He’s planning dozens of events and a nearly $2 million media campaign to explain the changes to voters in coming months.

By ALICIA ROBINSON | arobinson@scng.com | The Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: September 16, 2019 at 5:35 pm | UPDATED: September 16, 2019 at 5:35 pm

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