CA Secretary of State has ‘deep concerns’ over how L.A. County handled election, says all 5.5 million voters should get mail ballots

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Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at a vote center at a Masonic Lodge in Los Angeles on March 3, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at a vote center at a Masonic Lodge in Los Angeles on March 3, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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California’s top election official says Los Angeles County should mail ballots to its 5.5 million registered voters at least 29 days ahead of the November general election to avoid the lengthy delays that plagued polling places in the nation’s most populous county on Super Tuesday.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a letter to Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan that he had “deep concerns” about how the county handled the election. As the county rolled out a new $300 million voting system, many machines failed and other problems at polling locations led to wait times of two hours or more.

Plus, traditional neighborhood polling places were replaced with fewer multipurpose “voting centers” that were unfamiliar to voters and contributed to the confusion. The centers, where people could register and vote, were among a series of changes in California meant to boost voter turnout and make voting more convenient. But they also saw problems statewide on Tuesday.

Of the 15 counties using the vote centers, 14 mailed ballots to every registered voter at least 28 days ahead of the election. Los Angeles County — with a population bigger than most states — was exempt.

That must change ahead of the November general election, Padilla said Thursday.

“This would be just a first, but important, step in better meeting the needs of the largest, most diverse voting jurisdiction in the nation,” Padilla said.

Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked Logan for a report digging into why so many people had trouble voting on Election Day. Logan said his report will include an assessment of mailing ballots to all registered voters ahead of Election Day.

Los Angeles mails ballots to voters if they request one. About 2 million registered voters did not request one for Tuesday’s primary. Logan said mailing those extra ballots would cost more money, but he didn’t say how much. He also worried that expanding vote-by-mail options would shift the focus away from traditional, in person voting — something he says would make it harder to vote for college students, non-English speakers and the homeless.

“The logistics and capacity for election administration in Los Angeles County are complex and demanding,” Logan said. “Significant efforts were made – and must be made going forward – to ensure greater access.”

California law exempted Los Angeles County from mailing ballots to all registered voters because, historically, the county has had some of the lowest vote-by-mail participation in the state. In 2018, 44% of participating voters in LA County mailed their ballots, compared with rates of 60% or more in other counties, according to the advocacy group Common Cause.

Los Angeles wasn’t the only county with election issues Tuesday. The state’s voter database was down for part of the day, meaning the 15 counties with vote centers could not print out ballots, register voters or check whether voters had already cast ballots. Some counties said the system was slow all day.

Padilla’s news release on Thursday did not address that issue.

The voting issues frustrated state lawmakers, who had hoped the changes to state law would make it easier for people to vote. State Sen. Tom Umberg, chairman of the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee, said it’s likely the state will hold public hearings on the issue.

Democratic state Sen. Ben Allen, whose district includes portions of Los Angeles County, announced new legislation Thursday that would require the county to either open more voting centers on Election Day or mail ballots to every registered voter in advance.

But another Los Angeles-area lawmaker, state Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, suggested a different response.

“Maybe doing nothing at this point and allowing people to become acquainted with the rules that now exist is maybe just a better strategy than continuing to pass more laws that can continue to create more confusion,” he said.

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