Guest post by Kled Baci, a Certified Law Student in the IPAT Clinic.
Over the past year, the UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic has begun working with nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving our election systems and fixing problems with electronic voting. As part of that effort, on Election Night we took a trip to the Orange County Registrar’s Office to observe the ballot-counting process. We left informed—and inspired.
At the Registrar’s Office, there were lines both to vote, and to register, thanks to California’s new same-day registration law. Throughout the day, we were told, each line had averaged about 300 people—enough to stretch out the building, up the stairs to the large parking lot, and all the way out nearly to the street.
The atmosphere outside the Registrar’s Office was energizing. Voters stood together, shoulder to shoulder, whether young or old, in suits or sweats. Looking around, you could see and sense the support that everyday Americans were providing to one another. Both staffers and volunteers were everywhere, helping keep the lines moving. Volunteers were providing food and water to those in the lines. The level of support was uplifting and universal, especially in a time when people on both sides of the aisle often feel aggrieved. None of the support came with stipulations or party conditions—people simply wanted to help their fellow Americans exercise their right to vote.
The inside of the Registrar’s Office felt like a bee’s nest. There were swarms of workers and volunteers busily keeping the logistics of the entire voting process moving along like a well-oiled machine. With almost a million ballots to be counted by the end of the evening, there was an army of staffers waiting for the boxes containing voting records from each polling place, called “Judge’s Booth Controllers” or “JBCs” by the manufacturer. When the first of these boxes began to come in at around 9:30pm, a loudspeaker blared, “The JBCs are about to arrive” and everyone sprang into action. It was instantly clear that months of preparation had led to election night, and everyone was giving 100% to ensure things went right.
As we worked our way throughout the office and adjoining facility there was a unique combination of security and transparency rarely found in any other environment. Certain areas were blocked off to the public (though we could see in) while the computer screens to those areas were projected outside so that public observers could see what was going on. Encouragingly, signs were posted listing the 200+ improvements to the voting process that have been implemented since 2014. Certainly not every improvement was earth shattering, but many—like mail-in vote tracking—seemed innovative and helpful.
So many people dedicate a tremendous amount of effort to ensure Americans are able to exercise their fundamental right to vote. The process, much like our body politic, is far from perfect. A lot of work still needs to be done to improve the democracy and the voting process, and we may still be 200+ improvements away from where we need to be, but after several hours of observation, I left the Registrar’s Office with a feeling of pride and appreciation. And some free pizza.