I went to one early voting location in Los Angeles County this morning, to both observe the early voting process there and to cast my own vote in the special election.
I arrrived at the early voting location in Pasadena (at the Jackie Robinson Center), 1020 North Fair Oaks Avenue, at a few minutes before 8:30am. Unless you are very familiar with this part of Pasadena, or have had other business at the Jackie Robinson Center, this can be a difficult early voting location to find. Here is a view from curbside showing the relatively small, “real estate” type signs, that are in place to help voters find the location. Once you’ve parked (and by the way, parking is not a problem at this voting site!), the entrances are marked, though again with very small signs. Coming down the main hallway in the Jackie Robinson Center, there is a directional sign pointing voters to the early voting site, which is tucked into a small room.
A voter approaches the early voting site, and is greeted by a poll worker who directs voters to a sign-in table, where the voter provides his or her name, address, birthdate, and driver’s license number on a small form. The voter signs the form and dates it, and then that form is given to a worker at a table at the entrance to the voting location. She gives voters a number, while she takes the information to a set of poll workers within the voting site who have access to the voter registration list for Los Angeles County. Provided that your name is in the list, and that you have not already voted or requested an absentee ballot, your number is called and you are given a smartcard that has the ballot style information on it. The voter is then allowed into the early voting site.
Here are three perspectives showing the early voting site ( a picture showing the device set up for accessible voting, a picture of the left side of the poll site, and the other side of the poll site.) They have managed to place a large number of voting devices into a very small space, and the only problem with this arrangement is that it is possible from some perspectives within the room to get a line-of-sight view of the screens of other voting machines, though given the number of poll workers and traffic flow in the voting site, I suspect that if anyone were trying to watch others vote it would be quickly noticed and effectively dealt with.
The voter then uses the smart card to active the voting device, and to get their correct ballot style. Here is a picture of the demonstration voting device (Diebold). The voter inserts her smartcard into the reader on the right, until a very loud “click” is heard, and then the screen activates and requests the voter to select a language. The voter eventually gets to the ballot (in my case just a handful of propositions). Once the voter is done, the smartcard ejects itself with an audible “click”. The voter then deposits the smartcard in a box on the way out, gets her sticker, and is done voting.
I arrived just as the poll site opened for voting, and there were four people waiting ahead of me. It took less than two minutes for my authentication to be processed and for me to obtain a smartcard. While I was there (for about 45 minutes), approximately 35 people voted, and I noticed no obvious or pressing problems during that time.
A number of minor issues did crop up, some while I was voting, others that I observed and discussed with the poll site workers:
- Some voters had trouble with their smartcards. The primary issue was just not knowing to insert them fully and firmly into the reader. But one voter appeared to insert her card correctly, only to have it pop right back out; only after the assistance of a poll worker were they able to get the card to insert correctly and for the device to generate a ballot.
- The touchscreen on my voting device was a bit “flaky”. Sometimes I had to push repeatedly, or very firmly, to get a choice to register; and in some situations there was a bit of a delay (seconds?) between my push on the screen and the decision to be rendered.
- There was substantial glare on the screen, most likely caused by the lighting in the room. This was an issue that the poll workers said had been experienced by other voters as well.
- The method by which a voter could check and correct her ballot, upon completion of voting, was not intuitive (it was documented in the initial instructions, though!). From the summary screen, the voter could back up into her original choices. However, to change the choice, the voter did not just push in the appropriate location on the screen to make the change; rather, the voter deactivates the current choice by pushing on it, then is able to make the change to the other choice. Again, I found this non-intuitive and it took me a few tries to figure it out.
- The font size on the ballot measure descriptions was quite small, especially on the summary screen; while I could read it, I suspect that some voters may have difficult reading it.
- The California voter “bill of rights” was not well-displayed in this location. The poll workers admitted that they did not have the bill of rights poster in their materials; instead, they had simply torn the bill of rights from a sample ballot and taped it to the door. So it was there, but not very prominently displayed.
These were relatively minor issues, and again, there were no major problems that arose during my time in this early voting location. I’ve early voting in this same location in all of the recent major elections, and have consistently found it to be a relatively quick, simple, and satisfactory voting experience.
That said, based on the number of people who were coming in to vote on the last morning of early voting, I have to admit that I think some of the projections of voter turnout in the special election might be quite optimistic. I was seeing something less than a voter a minute, for the first 45 minutes of poll site operation. The poll workers all felt that turnout at this location was relatively slight, not nearing levels they had seen in the recent major elections at that same site. This to me indicates, qualitatively, that turnout here might be something like the 2003 recall election or lower, perhaps in the range of past special elections, and that it really does not look like it is going to be as great as seen in recent presidential elections. I’d be happy to be wrong — and there is still plenty of time for California voters to prove me wrong!