Early voting for June 2006 primary begins in LA County: observations of opening of early voting poll site

Today was the first day for early voting associated with the upcoming June 6, 2006 primary elections in Los Angeles County. I selected one of the seventeen early voting sites throughout LA County for today’s observation efforts: the early voting location at the East Los Angeles County Regional Library, at 4837 E. Third Street. This early voting site opened for voting at 11am this morning; I was on hand at about 9:45am.

Turns out that finding the early voting site was no easy task. The early voting site is at a location just south of the 60 (“Pomona”) Freeway in LA County; the easiest way to get to it from the vicinity of downtown Los Angeles (were I was coming from this morning) was to be on the eastbound 60, and to exit on South Atlantic Blvd. (which I did). However, it turns out that the street that the early voting location is on (E. Third Street), while listed by google maps as intersecting Atlantic, actually does not — at that point, “Pomona Blvd” intersects Atlantic, as you can clearly see in this photo. But I finally figured I should just head west on Pomona, and eventually it seemed to turn into E. Third, because on my right I saw the library complex.

But immediately another problem arose. Take a look: construction! Quite a problem; the construction had closed the entrance to the library! How was a voter to get to the early voting location? Not clear, so I just drove to the next intersection, where there were no signs indicating where I should go to vote! I turned right, and then took another right, and ended up in what I assumed was a library parking lot. I had to wait a few minutes for a space in the lot to open up, and then was able to park.

Here is a picture of the parking lot, which seemed to service the library, a courts building and a police station. Not much available parking. Here’s a picture of the library (on the left) from the parking lot sidewalk. The only noticeable sign is way over near the construction zone, next to the orange netting, a very small “VOTE” sign with an arrow. There was nothing in the parking lot I could see to tell anyone where to go to vote. In this close-up photo, you can see the “VOTE” sign next to the construction zone and a tree, but there was no comparable sign next to the parking lot.

As I approached the library entrance, some of the pollworkers were already there, including the inspector. She told me that the library was not even open yet, but we talked about the lack of signs. She was clearly concerned, but didn’t have any means to get additional signs or put them up. [As an aside, I emailed the Registrar/Recorder’s office about this situation this morning when I got back to my office; hopefully when I have some time later in the early voting period I’ll go back down to this early voting site to see if they have put up signs.]

Just before 10am, a library official opened the doors and let us all in; the inspector invited me to come as well. They opened up the room that housed the early voting site, and again invited me to observe. I do have to say at this point that I was very impressed by the openness and willingness of these pollworkers, and especially the inspector, to let me watch the process of setting up their early voting site on the first day of operation. It’s not easy to set up a polling place with electronic voting machines and the computer technology they use to access the electronic voter registration records; to do it with an observer present (and to remain friendly the entire time) is really a remarkable feat!

Here’s the entrance to the room housing the early voting location. [Note the clock — it didn’t work, which was a bit confusing to us all!] One of the pollworkers was standing there at the time; just behind here is the voting machine set up for disabled voting. To her immediate left was the table where voters would check in. This picture is taken from right inside the door, while pans slightly to the left, and this third picture pans all the way back to the left and almost shows the doorway.

Here’s a verbal description of the room. As you walk in, on your immediate right was the disabled voting machine, and behind it was the large black box where voters could deposit their paper absentee ballots. Behind that, along the far wall, were the seven other electronic voting devices (note that all the voting machines in this early voting location were equipped with “voter-verified paper audit trails” (VVPAT)). Looking further to the left was the large table where pollworkers used computer terminals hooked up to an electronic network to look up voter registration and polling place information; these computers also formatted the voter cards that were used to activate the electronic voting devices. At the near left, next to the door, was the check-in table, and behind that was one of the important innovations in this election: a nice flat-screen television/dvd player that had a demonstration dvd in it for voters to watch an informational video on how to use the Diebold voting devices. In the center of the room was a table that I believe could be used for voters to fill out their early voting application materials.

Here are some close-up photos of the Diebold device; this first one shows two of the security tags, the second shows the same machine even closer up (though the photo should be rotated for best viewing).

The procedure used to open the early voting site on the first day of voting was pretty straightforward. First, the workers turned on and booted up the voter registration computers. Then they waited until the technician arrived with “the key” for the voting machines; after he arrived, they opened up each of the electronic voting devices, checked the VVPAT devices, ran the “zero-tapes”, signed the “zero-tables”, and then sealed the machines back up for use. Here are a series of photos showing the set-up procedure:

Other than observing the set-up procedure, which was very interesting (and noting the difficulties associated with finding this early voting location), the one remaining important thing I wanted to write about: the voter education video.

They had the television/dvd set up behind the check-in station, in front of a row of chairs. When the first voter came in to vote, shortly after 11AM (he was elderly, perhaps 70 years old, and had been waiting patiently to vote since about 10:15AM), they sat him down and (with a little help from me) turned the dvd player on. The video was a pretty typical one, showing the operation of the Diebold device and the VVPAT, perhaps running 3 or 4 minutes (I’ll try to time it precisely tomorrow). Here’s the rub, though — as best as we could tell, the education video was only in English, and as it turned out, the first voter was fluent in Spanish. So the inspector stood there and translated the video for him, while I manned the remote control, pausing it when she instructed me!

As I saw it, the voter education video could serve a few purposes. It could really help voters learn how to use the device; in the past LA County simply had a demo in each early voting site, and as I saw in earlier elections, sometimes it was used, sometimes not. The video also could free up a polling place worker; rather than man the demo, the workers could be more effectively deployed to other tasks.

But in this situation, the video just wasn’t effective, leaving me (and some of the polling place workers) to wonder why the video presentation wasn’t in the other required languages. I asked this question to the Registrar/Recorder’s Office, and I’ll report back on the answer.

Last, the other interesting innovation in this early voting location was the distribution of a FAQ on touchscreen early voting, covering a variety of questions the pollworkers said were commonly asked the last time they did early voting. That’s a good idea, though it wasn’t clear to me that they had many of them (I took one, and if I can get it in electronic form, I’ll pass it along).

That’s it for the basics today. I’ll be back out at some of the other early voting locations in the next few days, including some visits on Memorial Day (when all of the early voting locations are supposed to be open, though some of them are in public buildings (like this library) that are closed on Memorial Day as this sign indicated.). More in the coming days!