L.A. County “Challenge” Could Be the Future of Voting Technology


[Image courtesy of lavote.net]

Los Angeles County, CA has announced an Open Innovation Challenge that it hopes will revolutionize the way the County – and someday, the nation – casts and counts its ballots.

According to the press release for Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean [RR/CC] Logan:

The underlying goal of the initiative is to design, acquire, and implement a new voting system that meets the needs of current and future Los Angeles County voters. The County launched its Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP) in 2009 and since then has been working with community groups to learn about voter needs and preferences. Working with a project advisory committee representing a broad spectrum of interests, in 2011 the Department adopted a set of general voting system principles that serve as the foundation for the development of the new system. The County now seeks to engage the genius and talents of the best and brightest designers, academics and experts in various fields to help envision what this new system might look like. “As we look to the future of voting in Los Angeles County, we want to craft a vision that encompasses the diversity, creativity and desires of the community we serve. The online crowdsourcing challenge is an exciting and innovative approach aimed at inviting broad participation in the ongoing discussion and design of our future voting system”, said RR/CC Logan.

Los Angeles will work with OpenIDEO – an online innovation platform sponsored by design firm IDEO (which has deep roots in the “design thinking” approach made popular at Stanford’s Institute of Design – or d.school for short).

The process – which is being operated in partnership with Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)’s Accessible Voting Technology Initiative and funded by a competitive grant from the EAC, will move through several stages, beginning with “inspirations” and then working toward concrete ideas that can be used, tested and refined going forward. The goal is to try to use design thinking to ensure that the resulting system addresses key needs by designing them in in advance rather than adding them afterwards.

Los Angeles’ need on the issue is great; its existing voting technology is aging rapidly and struggles to keep pace with the demand of its diverse and expanding population. Re-imagining – rather than merely replacing – that technology is a crucial enterprise for the nation’s largest county.

This innovation challenge approach – a variant on “crowdsourcing” that looks to tap the talents of a broad spectrum of citizens and experts – could end up as a model for the nation. After the boom days for sellers post-HAVA, voting technology has become a buyer’s market; challenges like Los Angeles’ could indicate that buyers are willing to fight – not just for a fair price today, but for a system that meets its needs today and tomorrow.

The Challenge runs through March 22nd; both the process and results should be fascinating and well worth following for anyone who cares about the future of elections in America. You can find it online at http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/brief.html.

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