Voters Take New Technology for Trial Run

One of the new touchscreen voting machines that was unveiled on Election Day in South Pasadena. The traditional InkaVote system was also available, but for the last time. Photo by Sally Kilby

The future paid an early visit to South Pasadena on Election Day this past Tuesday.

Voters at all three South Pas polling locations, and throughout the county, had a chance (if they chose) to cast their ballots using new, high-tech, touchscreen equipment — the kind that will be standard in the county starting with the March 2020 presidential primary.

The new system, which drew generally positive but also some skeptical reviews from local voters, will replace the traditional “InkaVote’’ system.

The new, so-called “Ballot Marking Devices” were developed by Smartmatic, a company with a West Coast office in Santa Monica, according to the L.A. Country Registrar-Recorder/Clerk’s office, which handles vote-counting in the area.

In all, 47 polling places around the county tested out the new devices in Tuesday’s elections, in which South Pas voters passed Measures A and C.

Starting next March 3, when California holds its presidential primaries, the old-fashioned InkaVote system will no longer be available. According to a South Pasadena poll worker, all voters will transition to the new voting booths then.

The new system includes both paper and electronic components. Ballots were available in multiple languages, and assistive devices for voters with visual and hearing disabilities are part of the apparatus. Voters make their selections on a large, 10-by-16-inch touchscreen. A paper ballot is produced, and voters can double-check the results.

The vote is cast electronically. The paper ballot is then stored in a locked box on the machine.

Tuesday, voters were offered the option of using the traditional voting method or the new system. County employees assisted voters who selected the new technology. It was not immediately known how many voters opted to test the new technology and how many went the traditional route.

Voters of varying ages who voted using the new system at the Library Community Room polling place were asked their impressions of the new technology. Most were pleased with the experience.

Sheila Tully was happy with the touchscreen and the way the information was presented.

“It was easy and big,” she said.

Voter Mary Chambers agreed, saying, “I didn’t even have to put my glasses on.”

“The format was great, very intuitive,” said Eryn Kalavsky, a millennial.

Others expressed reservations about the new technology.

“It’s going to be very confusing to people who are older, for those who aren’t familiar with an iPad,” said retired librarian Carolyn Flemming.

Flemming also expressed concern about privacy. She wondered if the large screen could be viewed by those from behind the unit.

“The old one is self-contained,” Flemming said. “This is big and broad.”

Richard Kahn, who described himself as a “young-at-heart senior citizen,” said the new system was efficient and easy to use.

However, he said, “Once I selected something, I wondered why it didn’t just automatically proceed to the next screen.” He was referring to the need to press “Next” after each choice.

Voter Edward Martinez agreed. “I just had to read the instructions,” he said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have known to press ‘Next’ each time.”

Martinez predicted it will take some time for people to learn it.

“Once you know the system,” Kahn said, “it will probably be faster than the older method.”

Surprisingly, not all millennial voters interviewed preferred the new technology.

“I used the traditional method to vote because I don’t trust the electronic systems,” said Eavie Porter, 34. “I try to avoid it as long as possible.”

She referenced a recent program on how easy it is to hack voting machines — Voting Machines: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO.

Several respondents were reassured about the system because a paper ballot is produced and archived.

“If this is just digital data,” said Kahn, “it can be messed with so easily.”

In addition to new technologies, next March the county will also be introducing other ways to modernize the voting experience, according to the Registrar.

Voting will be possible for 11 days prior to Election Day in special Voting Centers. Multiple voting sites will be eliminated. Citizens will be able to register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day. Information about the new voting technology, “voting solutions for all people,” can be found at