Long Beach and Los Angeles County in-person voters will face a new reality this March in a number of ways.

Those voting in the Democratic presidential primary this year will have more sway over who becomes the party's candidate. The state primary was moved from June to March3 specifically to get California into the discussion early.

That change stretches the time between primary and general election by three months — meaning those running for City Council and Long Beach Unified School District Board of Trustees will have runoff campaigns that are three months longer, unless they take a majority of votes in the primary.

But the big changes aren't about the candidates. They are about the way people cast their votes.

Los Angeles County is introducing the concept of voting centers — regional centers for people to come and cast ballots in person instead of the traditional neighborhood precinct approach. Long Beach City Clerk Monique De La Garza said there are several advantages to the new system, with the biggest being an 11-day window for people to vote — Feb. 22 through March 3.

"That 11 days includes two weekends," De La Garza said. "So if you have trouble getting to the polls on Tuesday, or weekdays, now you can vote on weekends."

Another plus, she said, is the computerization of voter rolls — the list of registered voters. This year, people can vote anywhere in Los Angeles County instead of being restricted to specific poling places.

And they will get the right ballot, too, she added.

"If you are visiting your aunt in Pasadena, and you decide to vote, you can," De La Garza said. "You put in your name, and you get the Long Beach ballot you're supposed to get. That's anywhere in the county."

The new voting equipment uses touch screen technology to walk voters through the ballot, with multiple opportunities to go back and change votes if necessary. It provides ballots in 13 different languages, and includes an audio option. But it is not connected to the internet and produces a paper ballot put directly into a secure box (after a check by the voter if desired) to be counted.

As of Monday, the Secretary of State had not certified Los Angeles County's new system. But De La Garza said it is extremely safe and secure, and will be the system that is used.

There have been no changes to the mail-in voting system, and voters signed up for that approach will be seeing ballots in early February. But election officials are cautioning voters registered as "no party preference," that they have to ask for a special ballot if they want to participate in the presidential primary.

California voters decided in 2010 to use a Top-Two primary system, where all candidates are listed on one ballot in the primary, and the top two vote getters go on to the general election. But that does not cover the presidency.

The only way to vote in the Republican presidential primary is to change affiliation to Republican. Other parties allow "no party preference" voters to participate in their primaries, but that ballot must be requested. Postcards were sent out by mail, and people can make the request by phone phone, 800-815-2666 or email votebymail@rrcc.lacounty.gov by Feb. 25.

After that, requests must be made in person, but that can happen at voting centers up to and including election day. If no request is made, people still receive a ballot, but with no presidential candidates.

De La Garza and her staff will be out helping voters, but won't have to worry about counting ballots — that will be the county clerk and recorder's office's job. That includes Long Beach races for City Council, LBUSD school board and two ballot issues — an extension of the Measure A sales tax, and a one percent increase of the Transient Occupancy Tax (hotel bed tax).

There are demonstration centers all over Los Angeles County for the new in-person voting systems. For hours and locations, go to LAVote.net/DemoCenters.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

Load comments