This week, Hannah Green and Prachi Mistry, who are Certified Law Students in the IPAT Clinic, attended a public hearing hosted by the Orange County Registrar of Voters, where Registrar Neal Kelley discussed the Draft Election Administration Plan (EAP) and received public feedback. Orange County has opted in to the California Voter’s Choice Act of 2016, meaning that Orange County will be replacing traditional polling centers with vote centers and adding many ballot dropboxes for vote-by-mail ballots. These changes are meant to increase the accessibility and security of the voting process in Orange County elections. The Public Hearing and EAP can be accessed here. Additionally, the public comment period is still open regarding the EAP (which can also be submitted here). Comments will be considered in the changes that are made for the final draft of the EAP.
The presentation highlighted extensive planning and outreach efforts to transition from traditional polling centers to vote centers. Specifically, 38 vote centers open for 11 days and 188 vote centers open for 4 days. These vote centers will allow voters to cast their ballot at any center up to ten days prior to election day, including two weekends before election day. Additionally, vote centers will include electronic check-ins and an increased number of accessible voting booths (which will include language and disability accommodations). Most importantly, all 1.6 million registered Orange County voters will receive a vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot. Ballot dropboxes will be placed in high-traffic areas, from shopping centers to community centers, to improve accessibility. The system integrates high-speed mail sorting technology that documents every returned envelope and tracks each ballot. Voters can therefore track the status of their ballots and ensure that their vote is, in fact, recorded. According to Mr. Kelley, these innovations are based on current voter behavior and the projected trends, and the resulting model facilitates both vote-by-mail and in-person voting.
Orange County has often been at the forefront of election practices, previously conducting pilots of risk-limiting audits in order to improve the accuracy and efficiency of its auditing procedures. Traditionally, audits have been conducted via a One Percent Manual Tally (“1PMT”) (also known as the Post-Election Manual Tally), which applies a blanket approach of hand-counting the ballots in one percent of each county’s precincts. In contrast, risk-limiting audits calculate the number of ballots that need to be hand-counted so as to detect with a precise degree of statistical certainty a potential error in the reported outcome.
Most elections experts agree that risk-limiting audits are more likely to identify an error in the reported outcome than the 1PMT, and often they require less hand-counting than the 1PMT. But they also are administered differently and it is more difficult to understand how they work. In light of these complexities, the IPAT Clinic are working with the California Voter Foundation to look into the pros and cons of risk-limiting audits as compared to the 1PMT from a voter’s perspective, and how to make the process more administrable and comprehensible.