voting machine

One of the new voting machines set up for a demonstration at Hawaiian Gardens City Hall.

Long Beach’s most recent election is at the center of a lawsuit against Los Angeles County over new voting machines that will go into widespread use during the March 3 elections.

Beverly Hills filed a complaint last week against the county, arguing the new voting technology — known as Voting Solutions for All People 2.0 — could impact the results of an election with more than four candidates.

The new machines have been in the works for more than a decade and are intended to make voting more accessible. They can display the ballot in 13 languages, and voters who are visually impaired can use an audio headset.

But the lawsuit centers on a different aspect of the design: The “more” button that voters must press to see beyond the first screen of candidates, which only includes four names.

Voters do not need to scroll through the entire list of candidates before selecting one.

The Beverly Hills lawsuit, filed Wednesday, Jan. 22, argues that people may simply pick one of the first four names they see and move on without pressing the “more” button to reveal the rest of the candidates.

That city’s evidence? The special election Long Beach held in November to pick the First District’s next representative on the City Council.

L.A. County used the election as part of a pilot program for the new technology and allowed in-person voters to choose between the old InkaVote system — essentially a paper ballot — or the new electronic VSAP ballot-marking devices.

Beverly Hills noted that voters who used the new devices chose a different candidate, Mariela Salgado, than the overall winner, Mary Zendejas. Salgado’s name was on the first screen of the VSAP devices, while Zendejas’s name was listed seventh out of the eight candidates.

“The difference in results using these different ballot types,” attorney Fredric Woocher wrote in Beverly Hills’ complaint, “confirms that use of the (VSAP) touchscreen ballots puts candidates whose names appear on the continuation screens at a statistically significant disadvantage to candidates whose names appear on the initial screen — a disadvantage that is significant enough to affect the outcome of many elections.”

The lawsuit cited previous court cases, which have called for changes in ballot design to guard against a proven advantage for candidates whose names appear first.

A spokesman for L.A. County said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

But Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan said in a Monday, Jan. 27, court filing that testing has shown the VSAP design does not favor candidates whose names appear first.

“Results from user testing and (a) mock election,” Logan wrote, “indicate that voters understood and used the ‘MORE’ button as intended to view continuation screens in contests to see remaining text and candidates.

“Despite these positive results, when made aware of the ‘MORE’ button concern,” Logan added, “the Registrar made enhancements to the ‘MORE’ button after extensive discussions with technical and accessibility experts and consultants.”

Some of those changes included adding a pulsating yellow ring around the button and adding a gradient to draw a voter’s eye when more candidates exist. The system also notifies voters about contests or selections that were skipped over before they can submit their final ballots.

Long Beach City Clerk Monique De La Garza, for her part, said Monday that she agreed with the county’s assessment — that votes in the city’s special election were relatively consistent across all ballot types. (De La Garza served on the VSAP Advisory Committee during its development.)

Zendejas’s victory was due to vote-by-mail ballots, which comprised 70% of total ballots cast, according to data De La Garza provided and Logan’s most recent court filing corroborated.

Zendejas won 33% of vote-by-mail ballots, compared to Salgado’s 24%. But Salgado won 28% of InkaVote ballots and 30% of VSAP ballots, while Zendejas took home 25% and 29% of those votes, respectively.

“Although Mariela Salgado received more votes with the (VSAP),” De La Garza said, “the margin was minimal (four votes) and the results were consistent across all voting methods.”

Overall, De La Garza said, the technology will be a vast improvement for voters.

“Personally, I’ve seen the equipment. I’ve tested the equipment,” she said. “I think it’s very cutting-edge technology, a very cutting-edge way for people to vote, and it’s the direction the whole country is going to go in eventually.”

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