Los Angeles County has a new voting system this year. Instead of every registered voter being assigned a specific polling place based on their home address, you can vote at any polling place — excuse me, “vote center” — in the county. There are fewer locations than there used to be, but they’re also open longer for early voting, with locations open the weekend before election day, and some open as many as 11 days ahead.

The idea, as I understand it, is to make it as easy as possible to get to a polling place, no matter what work hours or commute you have to deal with. Hit one near home on your day off, or near work during lunch, or whatever works.

I went in Monday morning for Tuesday’s primary election, figuring the lines would probably be shorter. It was at the local library, and I was kind of amused to see the “Please do not place ballots in book drop” sign, but as expected, there was basically no line. The process was interesting:

  1. They scanned my sample ballot and printed out a code on an otherwise-blank sheet of paper.
  2. I took the paper to one of the voting machines and placed it into a feeder slot.
  3. The machine pulled the paper in and launched the ballot on a touch screen. (The screen was a lot more responsive than the first digital voting machines I used back in the 2000s, where I could actually watch the screen repaint!)
  4. I chose a language for the ballot.
  5. I went through each ballot item, one page at a time. The full name/description was a touch target for each option, and once I’d selected a candidate (or yes/no), I pressed another button at the bottom of the screen to go to the next page.
  6. For items with more candidates than would fit on one screen, “More” buttons would pop up at the top and bottom of the screen. Not ideal, but at least it avoided the accidental-click-while-scrolling problem.
  7. At the end, it printed out all my choices on the paper and ejected it (with the top edge still in the rollers) so I could look it over.
  8. I pressed Confirm one more time, and it pulled the ballot back in for storage.

It also had headphones and physical buttons for an audio interface, and there were a lot of volunteers to help voters learn the new system.

It’s probably the most usable balloting system I’ve used. No paddle-wheel or slowly-responding buttons to overshoot with. No lining up generic scantron sheets with the ballot questions and hoping you didn’t position it wrong. No concern that the lever is going to knock over the cardboard voting booth when you punch it (though I do miss the satisfying ka-thunk! of those levers!)

And I really appreciate that the paper trail is not just machine-readable, but human-readable as well! Because that’s the key thing with ballots: it’s more important to be sure that the count is correct than to count it fast. The only way to be sure of that it to have an offline copy that can’t be hacked, like the paper printout. And a sheet of paper with the actual names is much easier to verify than a grid of unlabeled multiple-choice bubbles that you have to line up next to the right options.

Update: With election day come and gone, it’s clear that my good experience was only because I was there early. Countywide, LA reported long lines and people having trouble with the machines. Even at this same location, people waited for hours — in a primary, which normally has lower turnout. Even though there was another station less then a mile away with no line at all. And even though poll workers told them about it!

It’s definitely going to be a good idea to vote early in November, if possible. Update 2: Or just vote by mail, depending on what the Covid-19 pandemic looks like by then.

If you have a big problem and a small problem, and you solve the small problem in a way that makes the big problem worse, that’s a bad solution.

Imagine “solving” a squeaky air conditioner fan by breaking the AC completely!

In the US, people voting who shouldn’t is a much smaller problem than people who should be allowed to vote not being able to, or mishandling of ballots after the vote. Voter ID laws and roll purges “solve” the smaller problem by making the bigger problem worse.

(You might already have an acceptable ID, or the documentation needed to get it — and the time and money to handle it. But what if it’s hard to get the time off? What if you can’t cover the fee without skipping meals? What if you need to cross two states to get the docs and can’t afford the car/gas/motels?)

If you assume good faith? Pushing to block people from voting, while simultaneously refusing to protect registration rolls or polling machines from mishandling or cyberattacks that we know are ongoing, is bad problem solving at best.

But it’s hard to assume good faith. Because those ID requirements and purges are more likely to unfairly disenfranchise people who might vote Democratic. And the ongoing Russian attacks that Mitch McConnell doesn’t want to guard against have favored the Republicans.

So it’s really easy to conclude that GOP politicians don’t want fair elections. They want elections tilted in their favor. Even if it means leaving the door open for a hostile foreign government to attack.

And anyone else who finds those vulnerabilities.

The polling place was full this morning. I had to drive all the way around the block to find parking (notice the line of cars), which I can’t recall ever having to do at this location. (The 2016 election used a different polling place for this area.) I wondered if I should have walked there and back instead of stopping by on my way to work.

But they had just enough voting booths to handle everyone. There was literally one person ahead of me in line to sign in. While we waited for other voters to finish with their booths, someone came in to drop off his family’s mail-in ballots and then cast his own in person.

Then a booth opened up, I marked my ballot (on paper, fill-in-the-bubble style), and went over to feed it into the box.

I was in and out in about 10 minutes.

Californians! Today is the last day to register to vote in time for the midterm election.

Don’t sit this one out!

Even if you don’t care which Senator wins, even if the propositions are overwhelming…

We’re choosing the next governor.

We’re choosing the House reps & state legislature.

For Secretary of State we’re literally choosing between one candidate who’s touting his success registering eligible voters (Padilla) and another whose campaign statement is all about how he wants to purge the voting rolls (Meuser).

So get online NOW. If you’re not registered to vote, register before tonight’s deadline.

If you are… Check to make sure you’re still registered and haven’t been dropped by mistake (it happens!) while there’s time to re-register.

Californians: If you can vote this November, don’t sit this one out.

We have a governor to choose. We have representatives to select. And we need to shut down the 3-Californias plan hard. It’s a terrible, outlandish, unpopular idea…but in a midterm election (low turnout already) with the specter of voter suppression? Don’t rely on it being too outlandish to pass. No one expected Brexit to happen. No one expected Trump to even be nominated, never mind win the election. Outlandish doesn’t mean impossible.

So check your voter registration status. Make sure it hasn’t been cancelled or otherwise lost, because that does happen.

Breaking up California’s economic and electoral power isn’t going to help California much. And if you think the water situation is bad now, wait until everything’s split across three states, one of which doesn’t touch the Sierras or the Colorado…