Los Angeles County: Building and deploying VSAP, a model for 21st Century elections

VSAP system continues to deliver in LA

Since the 2020 Presidential election, the groundbreaking Voting Systems for All People (VSAP) ballot marking devices built by Smartmatic for Los Angeles County have been used in more than a half dozen local, municipal and state elections. They were also used in LA for California’s gubernatorial recall vote on September 14, 2021. The machines have performed as designed and have demonstrated their rugged durability. LA voters continue to praise the BMDs their simplicity, accessibility and accuracy, as seen in this video.

November 11, 2020

The ballot marking devices in Los Angeles County’s new Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) system came through the California extended election period with flying colors. Under the specter of the coronavirus pandemic, LA still saw an estimated 852,000 voters turn out to cast their votes in person. More than half of those who voted in-person cast ballots early during the County’s 11-day window. The county deployed almost 20,000 ballot marking devices (BMDs) to nearly 800 vote centers across the county. LA is America’s largest election jurisdiction with more than 5.8 million registered voters. Smartmatic provided the following:

  • Engineered and manufactured the BMD hardware
  • Programmed and installed the BMD software
  • Led the California certification process
  • Created the backend software to manage the devices
  • Provided systems integration services
  • Built the VSAP operations center
  • Handled logistics and setup/breakdown of the vote centers
  • Oversaw real-time data management for deployment
  • Supplied Help Desk services on Election Day

Smartmatic had, at times, as many as 200 staffers supporting the project.

The touchscreen BMDs proved robust under heavy voter turnout, in open-air polling centers and extensive cleaning by poll workers after every voter. The simplicity of their design makes the devices easy to wipe down to minimize the risk of viral spread.

“Our long-term investment and hard work in L.A. County was worth it. The execution of this election was successful,” said Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan in an article in the LA Times newspaper. (Read the whole article here.)

Election experts said the county’s voting system appears to have met its high expectations. “The big thing is, you don’t really know how a new electoral system is going to play until you test in practice,” said Kevin Wallsten, professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach. “It seems like L.A. County, in particular, performed pretty well.”

By the Numbers – 2020 General Election in Los Angeles County

  • 791 – Vote centers open on Election Day
  • 31,000 – Ballot marking devices (BMD) manufactured for LA by Smartmatic
  • 19,445 – BMD deployed for the election
  • 800+ – Election workers hired and trained by Smartmatic for the County
  • 6,129,494 – Citizens eligible to vote
  • 5,785,377 – Citizens registered to vote
  • 73.8% – Turnout of registered voters
  • 4,270,129 – Votes cast in the 2020 general election
  • 834,150 – Votes cast in-person in the 2020 general election

September 25, 2020

The Voting Solutions for All People system was recently re-certified for use in the upcoming Presidential election. The testing was done using California Voting System Standards (CVSS) by an independent third party selected by the office of the California Secretary of State. In February 2020, the VSAP 2.0 system had been conditionally certified by the State of California for use in the 2020 primary. A multidisciplinary team developed enhancements to the system and addressed the items listed in the conditions of certification. The State and its contract testing authority verified that Smartmatic did resolve the required items in the version 2.1 system.

Smartmatic also performs its own evaluations. All systems undergo extensive performance evaluations that includes examination and testing of system software; software source code review and evaluation; hardware and software security penetration testing; hardware testing under conditions simulating the intended storage, operation, transportation, and maintenance environments; inspection and evaluation of system documentation; and operational testing to validate system accuracy, performance and function under normal and abnormal conditions.

The technology infrastructure is air-gapped, meaning that it is isolated, self-contained and never connected to the internet. This is one of the many security mechanisms used to protect the system. Additionally, there is stringent security for system access and strict controls limiting access to the County facilities housing the VSAP Ballot Marking Devices and high-speed scanners.

March 4, 2020

LA County Registrar Dean Logan and his team implemented VSAP, the nation’s most advanced, secure and accessible voting system today for the 2020 California primary. Across Los Angeles County more than 22,000 ballot marking devices helped more than 745,737 voters cast their ballots over the expanded voting period, including more than 600,000 on Election Day.

In an exit poll of 3,600 voters conducted by Loyola Marymount University, 95.4% of Angelinos said using the VSAP ballot marking device was “very easy” or “somewhat easy.” More than 87% of voters in that same survey said their overall voting experience was “excellent” or “good.”

LA County Registrar Dean Logan went on the record about the wait times at some vote centers. As he noted, most of those challenges were related to the check-in process. Regardless, the migration to the new system is a tremendous step forward for voting systems in the U.S., and a clear demonstration of how good technology can improve accessibility and the overall election experience.

Voter feedback on social media further confirmed how LA voters felt about their election experience.

February 2020

Throughout the winter the team from the Los Angeles Registrar/Recorder’s office has been showcasing the system at educational events around LA county, including the 28th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit.

On January 24, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla certified Los Angeles County’s Voting Solutions for All People 2.0 (VSAP) for use starting with the March 3, 2020 Presidential primary election.

As part of the testing and approval process, the system went through rigorous functional and security testing conducted by the state’s testing consultants. The County subjected the system to independent, third-party security and penetration testing that exceeded state requirements. California’s standard for election equipment is already more stringent than EAC certification guidelines.

Early voting opened February 3 with in-person voting taking place at the Registrar’s office in Norwalk, CA.

The VSAP system allows voters to easily review their selections before printing their paper ballot. Voters will have ample time to review their paper ballot before casting their ballot. Voters will not be limited in the amount of time they have to review their ballot selections.

VSAP ballot marking devices are not connected to the internet, are not used to count votes, and do not store any data. County officials will tabulate the votes by counting the paper ballots produced by these devices and cast by voters.

November 2019

On November 5, LA County ran a local and municipal election to fill offices and to vote on measures that affect municipalities, school districts and special districts. The election provided an excellent platform for a limited-scope trial of the new VSAP ballot marking devices and electronic poll books, which were mixed in with LA’s existing voting system at 47 polling places.

More than 211,000 registered voters were able to choose which system they wanted to use to cast their ballot. By all accounts, the VSAP ballot marking devices performed admirably. There were no major system problems and informal feedback was quite positive.

September 2019

Los Angeles County successfully conducted a Mock Election using the VSAP system that will debut during the March 2020 presidential primaries.

The two-day event (Sep 28-29) started with a sneak-peek event for local media. More than 1,200 voting devices were available at 50 sites around the County. Participants cast ballots for things like “Favorite LA Sports Team” and “Favorite Tourist Attraction” using the County’s new VSAP system.

More than 5,800 LA residents took part in the countywide event. Feedback from the event will be considered as the VSAP system continues through its development process toward certification by the state.

See news coverage of the mock election here.

August 2019

L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan and Smartmatic will host a mock election to allow LA citizens to hands-on with the new Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) system. The public test will take place at 50 locations across the county on Sept. 28 and 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To prepare for the event, the Smartmatic team has been working hard to manufacture, program and ship hundreds of VSAP machines to LA.

May 2019

Having completed the engineering validation testing phase of product development, Smartmatic is moving into the design validation testing phase.

On completion, the California Secretary of State will begin certification testing of the system. Certification testing is an extremely rigorous process designed to ensure that the system meets the California voting system standards—a set of requirements that are among the most exacting in the United States.

On May 2, 2019, NBC Investigations reported on the development of the VSAP system. That story can be fund here.

About Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP)

Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) began in 2009 when Los Angeles County started looking to replace its aging voting system. The county sought to create a system that was less complicated for voters and more inclusive. Of course, it also needed its new system to be secure, transparent, and easy to maintain and upgrade over subsequent years.

The County sought input from a wide variety of stakeholders. It quickly became clear, however, that a jurisdiction as large and diverse as Los Angeles County needed a system that was more sophisticated than any off-the-shelf system on the market. So Los Angeles set out to design a state-of-the-art, publicly owned voting solution that would exceed anything that any other jurisdiction had implemented to date. 

In imagining such a system, the County undertook an unprecedented, decade-long process of soliciting input from the technology sector, political parties, voting rights groups, disability advocates, the academic community, the language minority community, and the voting population of Los Angeles County.

The research led the County to replace its precinct-based voting model with a vote-center model. Instead of requiring citizens to vote only at their assigned local precinct, they would now be able to vote at any voter center anywhere in the jurisdiction.

In 2017, Los Angeles County began searching for a partner to build VSAP and issued a rigorous RFP. On June 12, 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to award the VSAP manufacturing contract to Smartmatic. The County cited Smartmatic’s unparalleled experience in providing secure, advanced election technology and services to election commissions throughout the world as the primary reason for its choice. Smartmatic immediately established an office in Los Angeles County to begin VSAP development.

Under the agreement, Smartmatic is responsible for systems integration, engineering and manufacturing of the new voting system. Smartmatic will manufacture 31,100 VSAP Ballot Marking Devices (BMD). In addition, the company is developing the VSAP BMD Manager (BMG). The BMG device enables the County to perform device management tasks, including loading software, locating individual machines in the warehouse, troubleshooting, and downloading usage data from BMDs after elections. 

The final component of the VSAP project that Smartmatic will deliver to Los Angeles County is the Interactive Sample Ballot (ISB). The ISB is a web interface that allows voters to pre-mark their ballot selections on their smartphone or tablet. They then bring the device to the vote center and download their ballot to the VSAP. This will expedite the voting process and reduce any possible wait times at the vote center.

Los Angeles County voters will first be used in the March 2020 presidential primary before the November 2020 elections.