Technical Issues Lead To Long Lines For California Voters

March 03, 2020 - 9:19 pm

Voters wait on line at a polling station at the University of Southern California on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Some California voters are waiting in long lines because of technical glitches connecting to the statewide voter database or too many users trying to cast ballots at once. The secretary of state's office said election workers in 15 counties could not connect to the statewide voter registration database on Super Tuesday but that the issues have been resolved. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Some California voters waited in long lines Tuesday because of technical glitches connecting to the statewide voter database or, in the case of the nation's most populous county, too many users trying to cast ballots at once through a new election system that had raised concerns about technical and security defects.

Election workers in 15 counties, including Fresno, Napa and Sacramento, could not connect to the statewide voter registration database, said Sam Mahood, spokesman for the secretary of state's office.

He said there was no evidence of malicious activity but did not explain what caused the failure. Mahood also said the secretary of state's website experienced intermittent outages due to higher-than-normal traffic and that technicians added server capacity.

“This should not (have) prevented any voters from casting a ballot, as counties have contingency procedures in place to check-in voters. If a voter left without casting a ballot, we encourage them to go back to the polls before 8 p.m.," Mahood said.

California is among 14 states holding presidential primary contests on Super Tuesday, and voters in the nation's most populous state also are weighing in on congressional races, legislative seats and a statewide school bond.

In Los Angeles County, which has more than a quarter of the state's 20 million registered voters and a new $300 million voting system, electronic pollbooks were operating slowly because so many voters were trying to use them at the same time, said Mike Sanchez, spokesman for the county registrar-recorder's office.

Delays were up to two hours in some locations, including at the University of Southern California. Students said the delays appeared to be at check-in, where voters either needed to register for the first time or get a provisional ballot to vote because they live outside Los Angeles County.

Jimmy Huber, 22, of Whittier in LA County, said there weren’t enough workers checking in voters. He waited about 90 minutes.

“After that, you could go straight to any of the machines,” he said. “It goes quickly once the human part’s done."

Richard Gonzalez, 20, of Tracy in San Joaquin County, said poll workers began handing out pink provisional ballot forms while he was in line, which sped up the process once he got inside.

Technicians have added more devices in some polling places to speed up lines, said Sanchez from the registrar's office. There had been no indication of security breaches with the pollbooks, which are hooked up to the state's voter database, he said.

The state certified LA County's new elections system despite serious technical and security defects identified in testing. That includes the ability of an attacker to bypass seals, locks and sensors and boot from a USB port, which could allow election data to be modified. Testers also found the machines were susceptible to paper jams at five times the acceptable rate.

Election integrity activists had warned that the system was bound to experience serious failures and should never have been certified for use. The conditional certification was contingent on several defects being remedied — after Tuesday's primary.

Long lines also were reported in Beverly Hills, which has sued Los Angeles County over the new voting system's user interface, calling it severely flawed.

Beverly Hills spokesman Keith Sterling estimated people were waiting about 90 minutes in the city of 35,000. One possible explanation for long lines at some places is that the new system allows people, for the first time, to vote wherever they like in Los Angeles County.

“There's a lot of frustration, (and) people walk away. I don't know if they'll come back. I hope they do,” Beverly Hills City Council member Julian Gold said.

Contra Costa County near San Francisco was having problems into the evening, said Scott Konopasek, assistant registrar of voters. The slow connection to the state database added an extra five to 10 minutes to each transaction.

“Nobody’s leaving,” he said. “It’s more of an annoyance and an inconvenience for everybody.”

Officials believe the problems could be tied to a number of changes aimed at expanding voter participation. The state also moved up its primary from June to March so voters could weigh in earlier.

New this year, Californians are able to register to vote through 8 p.m. Tuesday at any location where ballots are accepted, which could tie up lines as people fill out paperwork. Results may be delayed because provisional ballots take longer to count.

Also, 15 counties representing more than half the state's voters replaced traditional neighborhood polling places with a smaller number of multipurpose vote centers where people can register and vote.

The new centers are designed to make voting more convenient but may confuse people accustomed to visiting their local polling place.

Konopasek of Contra Costa County suspects the massive increase in vote centers is slowing the system.

Sacramento County, one of the 15 that uses vote centers, was among those affected by the voter registration database issue for about an hour mid-morning.

Officials treated everyone as a new voter and had them fill out a conditional voter registration form, spokeswoman Janna Haynes said. Then poll workers called their main office with the person's address to determine which precinct's ballot each voter needed and printed it out.

"Fortunately, it was short-lived and didn't impact us all day," Haynes said.


Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles, Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, Olga R. Rodriguez and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco, and Amy Taxin in Tustin contributed to this report.

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