Will LA County's New Voting Machines Lead to a Colossal Failure?

A voter enters a voting booth at Laurel High School on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Laurel, Mont. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

A 10-day, in-person early voting period for California’s March 3 primary kicked off Saturday morning and voters are already reporting problems.

Instead of being restricted to voting in their own precinct, LA County residents can vote at any early voting center in the county during this 10-day period. Both the early voting centers and the voting machines – a new touchscreen system that took nearly a decade to develop and cost taxpayers over $300 million – are new.


Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

KQED’s Saul Gonzalez, reporting from an early voting center in Silver Lake, said things were going “terribly” so far.

In his video, Gonzalez listed out the problems (emphasis added):

“In the first hour or so of voting this morning, things have gone terribly here in Silver Lake. A lot of the machines don’t have power. The poll workers don’t have security codes. Their security codes aren’t working on the machines. And you have voters arriving who at first were pretty genial with the problems…but they’re getting angrier and angrier as they wait.

“The IT guy has arrived…to try to fix things. He seems to be flummoxed, though, at this very moment. Let’s hope the same thing isn’t happening in a lot of other places in Los Angeles County this morning.”

At least there were machines on-site in Silver Lake. Voters who showed up to numerous EVC’s in the county, including Van Nuys and Echo Park, were turned away because the equipment hadn’t been delivered yet.


Poll workers told Emilia Barrosse that equipment had been delivered to only 64 of 200 locations.

The Los Angeles Times confirmed that at least 10 voting centers opened late or didn’t open at all.

One voter who was actually able to cast her ballot said that the layout on the screen was confusing.


Election watchers aren’t surprised. The new systems failed required security checks, but Secretary of State Alex Padilla certified them for use anyway, with caveats. (Some of the requested modifications don’t have to be made for five months, long after the primary date.) The City of Beverly Hills has sued to prevent their use.

CBS Los Angeles investigative reporter David Goldstein wrote about the new system’s vulnerabilities earlier this month. Brad Friedman, a former software programmer who is an election integrity activist, told Goldstein that people should have “zero” confidence in the new systems. An independent report commissioned by the California Secretary of State found the systems “failed more than 40 California voting system standards,” detailing dozens of security problems:


“Reports commissioned by the California Secretary of State’s office…show dozens of security problems, including ‘a large number of publicly known vulnerabilities” that increase the “statistical likelihood of a problem in the future.’

“Another report stated: ‘Lock picking was attempted and was successful,’ ‘tamper-evident adhesive label seals were removed’ by testers, calling them ‘easily defeated locks and seals.'”

In addition to those flaws, UC Berkeley professor Phillip Stark told CNN that due to design flaws in the Ballot Marking Devices, “There is no way to catch the errors if they (machines) misbehave.” Stark examined the devices in question.

The Ballot Marking Devices he refers to are touch-screen tablets that let voters make their selections and then print paper ballots so that they may be reviewed and fed back into the devices. The paper ballots are then pushed to secure ballot boxes on the backs of the devices.

As Goldstein says, once the ballot is inserted back into the machine it could be changed without anyone knowing. Stark explained:

“A device that was misprogrammed, misconfigured, hacked, could print additional votes on your ballot, could alter your selections, could render your ballot unreadable.”


To avoid problems with the new system, LA County voters are encouraged to vote by mail. Returning the ballot directly to one of 200 official drop box locations is the best method to ensure that it gets where it’s supposed to go, but ballots can also be returned by mail (no stamp needed). Voters can then check LA Vote to confirm that their ballot was received.


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