LA County's double-bubble

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There's turning out to be a problem with LA County's optical scan voting system. This is an interaction between California's open primary and optical scan balloting. The backstory here is that California's Democratic and American Independent primaries allows voting by "decline-to-state" voters, but they need to fill in a bubble on the ballot to indicate which primary they want to vote in.(sample ballot here).

LA County uses a system called InkaVote Plus, made by ES&S. This isn't one of the systems we worked on in the TTBR. What it is is a centrally counted optical scan with a local checker. The way that this works is that the voters vote on paper ballots which are then checked by a local checking machine, called the precinct ballot reader (PBR). If there is something wrong, it spits the ballot out with some sort of warning (it's hard to tell from the video how good the warnings are). If the ballot checks, it drops into the ballot box. At the end of the election, the ballots get shipped back to county central, where they're counted in central optical scanners.

The nice thing about this design is that it's fairly resistant to technical attacks on the computerized part of the system—all the authoritative counting is done in scanner where access can be restricted to state employees. But because there is checking at the polling place, in principle you can catch voter errors. What's interesting is that it apparently didn't catch them here. It's possible that there are areas that aren't using the ballot check feature, but more likely the PBRs are only programmed to detect overvotes, not undervotes, and this just looks like a particularly egregious undervote.

The thing that I don't quite get here is that reading the coverage it sounds like decline-to-states and Democrats (or AIs) get the same blank ballot, so how does the central scanner know whether you're a registered Democrat or night (registered Democrats don't need to fill in the bubble)? Do they go in different bin or is there some other mark that indicates that they are decline-to-state voters or what?

UPDATE: Fixed link to sample ballot. Thanks to Steve Bellovin for pointing this out.


I think the deal was that you had to cast your ballot in a specific type of booth with a specific inkavote reader.

So, the inkavote reader checks for mistakes (and would see this as an undervote when configured in an N-Dem format) in your ballot and casts it. There was probably a non-partisan booth with a non-partisan configured inkavote reader that was programmed to read non-partisan ballots, dem ballots and AI ballots... but that it only counts the presidential race on the dem and AI ballots if you've filled out the partisan bubble. that is, it considers it an undervote in a conditional race where you have to select something in one race for a selection in another race to be counted (like the recall election where you voted on the question of the recall (yes/no) and then on who should replace the recalled).

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