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S2E5 - Tale of Two Election Jurisdictions, Part 2: Los Angeles County with Dean Logan

In the second of a two-part exploration, hosts Brianna Lennon and Eric Fey take a look at resource allocation and how that differs between cities of different sizes. In this episode, they speak with Dean Logan, the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk of Los Angeles about funding and what it is like to oversee the “most complex county election jurisdiction in the Country” with 5.2 million registered voters.

High Turnout, Wide Margins Credits:
Managing Editor: Rebecca Smith
Managing Producer: Aaron Hay
Associate Producers: Katie Quinn, Abigail Ruhman

Transcription of the episode is as follows:

Dean Logan: Yeah, I guess when I think about that I think about, you know, over the course of my career, you know, starting in a mid-size county being at the statewide level in Washington and coming here, I don't think that the issues that we deal with are fundamentally different. I think it's- it's all- it's all about scale and it's about- about capacity right.

Eric Fey: Hello, I'm Eric Fey, Director of Elections in St. Louis County, Missouri.

Brianna Lennon: And I'm Brianna Lennon County Clerk for Boone County, Missouri. Today, we are going to be talking to the largest jurisdiction for elections in the United States. And we're talking to Dean Logan, who is the- Oh, I just lost it. Register recorder county clerk of L.A. County.

Logan: That's right.

Lennon: So we're really excited to talk to him today about everything that he's accomplished in L.A. County, but also just to hear a little bit behind the scenes of what it's like working there. So thanks very much for joining us today.

Logan: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

Fey: Dean, I'm curious what motivated you to seek the job in L.A. County. As Brianna mentioned, it's the perhaps largest election jurisdiction in the country, depending on I guess how you count New York City. I don't know how, how does that match up? Because I hear different things sometimes? It's either you or New York City?

Logan: Yeah, I think technically New York City all combined may be larger than we are. But it's broken up into boroughs. And L.A. County has one single jurisdiction. So I was corrected once on that, so I now when I talked about it, I said we're the largest local elections jurisdiction. So about 5.8 million registered voters here. That's more voters in this county than 42 of the states have statewide. So it's- it's a- it's a beast of a jurisdiction.

As for how I got here, that's sort of an interesting story, too. I was- I was in King County, Washington in 2004. There was a very close gubernatorial election that went to multiple recounts, and actually went to court in an election contest, a lot of controversy around that about a year after that. Things were settling down there. And but it was still pretty politically volatile.

So I started looking for opportunities and was contacted by my predecessor here in L.A. County, who invited me to come down to be the chief deputy here. At the time, she was going to work another seven to eight years, and that would give me the opportunity to decide if I wanted to- to make that leap.

And as fate would have it about- about nine months into, or maybe- maybe about 11 months into that journey, she decided she was going to leave at the end of that year. And I was thrust into- to stepping up to being the acting department head here in L.A. County, right at the start of the 2008 presidential election cycle, which by the way, in California, we had three statewide elections that year, because the presidential primary was separate from the- the regular state primary. So trial by fire. I did that first primary and then by the June primary of 2008, I was appointed to the position and have been here ever since.

So, for jurisdictions, over one million population, King County, Washington, and L.A. County are part of a rare group of counties where the elections function is combined with the recorder function and the County Clerk functions.

Lennon: Do you worry about having sufficient resources to run elections? Did you have issues during COVID? Where you had to tap into other offices or things like that? Or, or how did you manage it?

Logan: I think what- what I've learned and what- what's benefited my time in L.A. County is, is I've lived through those periods of times of kind of the consequences of underfunding and- and being under resourced, and- and can- and can share that experience in pretty- pretty good detail, you know, been able to use those experiences to leverage resources here and to and to then build on that with- with data that actually makes a compelling case to get the resources. But it is always a fight, right? Because just like any other jurisdiction, L.A. County has huge social and public health issues that have to be addressed, so you're always competing.

So, just trying to keep that in perspective, but also to make the case of why the electoral process, in particular, you know, even more so than the Recorder and County Clerk function requires a base level of resources in order for the rest of those departments to function because everything that we do in county government is impacted by the electoral process. That general sense of public trust and confidence in government in general. We're at the heart of that right now.

So, being able to, to leverage that, I think, you know, some good examples are with COVID, to your point, we were rolling out a brand new voting model at, you know, literally weeks before, when we conducted our primary weeks before the pandemic really took- took hold, and then going right into a presidential election cycle. And so we were able to actually use the county's disaster service worker model to staff our voting centers, our in-person voting locations, for the 2020 presidential election. A program that was very successful, because we were able to use county employees from virtually every department in the county to fill those positions and to make the case to our voters that we could offer a safe and secure elections process and it built on, you know, that- that addressed any issues that happened in the primary, but also built on the success of the new voting model.

That actually was so successful that we carry that we've carried that forward now, and that's now a permanent program in the county. We don't use, we don't exclusively use county employees, but our leads and our assistant leads at the vote centers, and we have a ten day early voting period, for in-person voting, those are all county employees, and we're able to, you know, obviously have a direct relationship with them and- and the departments that they work for. So that's been a very successful program.

I think the other thing we've been able to do is get recognition that in, especially in a jurisdiction like this, that we have to have a public education and media budget that every election has unique features, unique needs, and you can't communicate those enough to- to you know, a population of close to six million voters that that represents also 19 different languages and runs the gamut from very rural areas to very urban areas to a, you know, a high population of mobile and homeless individuals as well.

So we've been really, we've had a very successful program of being able to take data to demonstrate the effectiveness of that type of campaign, which when I look back across my entire career, I think that's a that's a big success story, because it used to be a nice-to-have to have money to do a media campaign. Now, it's actually recognized as a- a standard and critical component of any countywide election that we conduct.

Fey: I just have to back up a little bit, you said you use other county employees to kind of manage your vote centers. I certainly want to know more about that, probably a lot of people listening to this. It would be hard for me to imagine, in my county, other county departments, letting us use employees for that amount of time. How did that start? How does it work? Tell me everything. I want to know.

Logan: Well, that may be you know, that may be an example of- of scaling capacity again, right, because the- the sheer number of employees in L.A. County, basically, we made the case that- that a smooth, orderly election, and- and, you know, we're talking about literally thousands of people needed to staff our- our voting locations, and to do that exclusively with community volunteers, you know, has- has some liability involved in it.

And so, you know, as I said, it started with kind of a volunteer program where county departments were encouraged to offer county employees, and the county offered to cover their pay. So they, you know, it's not a day off, they get their regular pay. And they originally, when we were back at the polling place model, they would get, they would get the stipend on top of their pay, so there was a little bit of a financial incentive.

But really, the program that we operate today is- is an output of the- of the pandemic, if you will, because in the pandemic, at least in LA County, and in California, any public employee is deemed to be a disaster service worker, so all of our county employees were deployed to work at vaccination sites, testing sites, you know, any number of activities during the pandemic when we were shut down. All of us were contributing employees to do those activities. And we were under a public health emergency order and still are in L.A. County.

So we actually were able to leverage that to use county employees in a role as a disaster service worker, but because that was so successful, the county has- has passed a motion to make that a- a permanent program and so what we do is we work with the County's Department of Human Resources. They look at the- the number of full-time employees in each of the county department and they apply a threshold for how to meet our target number of- of leads and assistant leads for our vote centers. And so again, we have a ten-day voting period. That doesn't mean that these employees are working for 10 days. In most cases, they're four-day assignments. And so we cover as an election expense, we cover the overtime for those employees, but their base rate of pay is contributed from their, from their host department.

Fey: Hello, I'm Eric Fey, Director of Elections in St. Louis County, Missouri. And you're listening to High Turnout, Wide Margins, a podcast where we explore local election administration.

Lennon: I wanted to talk a little bit since we were still on- on resources a little bit and jump into more about your voting equipment because you said that you were rolling out the new voting equipment, which has been a long time coming. And I was wondering if you could kind of talk a little bit about that. And really, if you want to, I think it would be really good to go into the specifics.

I'm not sure everyone knows how much it costs. I'm not sure everyone knows what all went into it and the efforts that went into it to lead to where it is now. And I would really like to, to educate more people on that.

Logan: It really was more of a transformation of the voting experience than just about voting equipment. And it really has been an amazing journey. It's something that has lasted well over a decade.

In some ways, to kind of put it into perspective, you have to go back to, again to that 2000 presidential election where we're in California coming out of the 2000 presidential election and all of the concerns across the country about punchcard voting systems, and there was a bond passed to fund the replacement of those. The challenge for a jurisdiction like LA County is there was nothing to replace the punchcard voting system was there, there was nothing that was scalable, to a jurisdiction the size and complexity of L.A. County.

So as many will recall, there was this rapid development of the direct recording electronic touchscreen voting equipment. But even those were not really designed to the scale of a jurisdiction, like L.A. County. And then, at the same time, in parallel to that, the Help America Vote Act was being legislated in Congress. So you had the new features, so the requirement of the accessible voting devices, the second chance voting options, those components that- that didn't exist before.

So, my predecessor and the county took an interim approach that they- they use the initial HAVA funds to transition to a, what was always intended to be a bridge system that really ended up staying in place for much longer than was ever intended. At the same time, vote-by-mail was becoming more and more prevalent in California and in- in L.A. County. And, you know, for- for anyone out there who's familiar with- with punch cards, it's just not a very intuitive way to vote by mail, but for the length of the ballot, and the fact that we had multiple languages and the number of polling places we had, there was still nothing out there, there really was built to scale for that.

And then, we hit the- the 2004 and 2006 timeframe and all of those new systems that were rolled out across the country, with the HAVA funds, were suddenly under the cloud of concern for security and usability as well, all of that going on. And- and the kind of, the development and innovation around voting systems was actually going backwards instead of forwards.

So shortly after I became a registrar, we did an assessment and it became pretty clear and pretty well documented that there wasn't a market solution available for us, but that our- but that our bridge system was definitely at the end of its lifecycle. I mean, we came to the realization that if we didn't start to do something on our own, that we could very well find ourselves in a situation where- where we didn't have a functional voting system. So we initiated this effort. Originally, it was called the Voting Systems Assessment Project.

Made kind of a risky, but necessary choice, from my perspective, to kind of free ourselves of the constraints of the regulatory environment and of the fiscal environment and say, like, 'If we're going to start from scratch, what would a voting experience look like in L.A. County that could meet the needs of this diverse jurisdiction? People in rural areas, people in urban areas, language access, disability access.' I was- I was particularly interested in- in trying to get past that- that dichotomy that has existed for so long have the trade-off between the security of a voting system and the accessibility of a voting system.

And so, we set – I think there were about 14 principles that we adopted. We had a stakeholder meeting, brought a lot of people to the table. And we started to adopt a user-centered design model to design a voting experience, not just the equipment, again. So, we purposely and with intention said, 'We're not going to look at this as a technology project, or as an equipment project alone.' We wanted it to be more holistic than that.

So, that led to the adoption of, kind of, in the lifecycle of that project the Colorado model with vote centers and vote-by-mail was evolving. That fit with a lot of the work that we were doing. We were working with a design company that worked specifically in user-centered design that came down and spent a lot of time with us just talking with voters, finding out what they liked about their voting experience, what they didn't like, what gave them confidence in their voting experience and also reaching out to prospective voters. So we spend a lot of time with young people showing them how the voting process work, getting their impressions of all of that.

And that came together in our particular model of a ballot marking device was designed with the intention of being a publicly owned voting system. So we did not want to have separate devices for accessibility at our voting locations. We wanted everybody to be able to use the same piece of equipment, but we also wanted to have that paper tangible ballot that came back to be- to be tallied. And that could be- could be used for recounts and audits.

And so through a lot of effort with a lot of a lot of partnerships, we were able to do that. And we knew that vote-by-mail was going to be a major component of that at the time, we didn't- we did not necessarily anticipate that L.A. County would go into- or California, the state would go entirely vote-by-mail. But again, in our jurisdiction, even though we mail ballots to every registered voter, there's still a clear need for that in person voting experience for accessibility, for language. And now that we have a conditional voter registration or the ability for people to register, and vote, leading up to an on election day, it provides that through our in-person voting experience.

So the system does belong to us, it belongs to L.A. County It was built with the intent that we could share that in part or in whole with other jurisdictions. And we're in the process of kind of developing the ability to do that, right now. But we're now two years into the full deployment of it. It's- it's run the full spectrum of a new design of the vote-by-mail ballot, what it looks like what the envelopes look like the instructions, the ballot marking device, a separate and independent tally system, that- that counts, both the vote-by-mail and the ballot marking device ballots that are generated at our in-person voting locations.

In some ways, I would say by luck, and in some case, by necessity, we were able to maintain the support and the patience of our authorizing environment to get us to the to the finish line on that, but it's a system that right now is getting rave reviews from our- from our voters. It does achieve that ability, so I'm particularly proud of the accessibility features.

So, that's where we're at today. I think that the great thing about it is it's built to recognize that voter behavior and the regulatory environment and kind of the makeup of our population is always changing, so it's built to be agile. So we can continue to- to develop an improvement without having to go back and start from- from ground zero, again.

People are always shocked by this, but I mean, this was a, you know, more than a $300 million project in entirety, in terms of one-time costs of the development, the manufacturing, and everything that went into it. But I think you have to put that into perspective that- that was a big investment. That was a combination of those state bond funds, we got a series of grants, we had a lot of support from within the county to build that, again.

Operationally, I would say initially, it has- it's probably fair to say that it's increased the cost- overall cost of the election. I think over time that will stabilize, but I think the cost per vote cast is actually going down. So it's really how you know, it's how you how you- do that math and how you- how you leverage it. The philosophy behind it, it's now- it evolved from Voting Systems Assessment Project to what we branded as Voting Solutions for All People, and the intent is to meet people where they're at. That sometime in that ten-day voting period, that in the course of people's day-to-day life, wherever they are in our county, they're going to see either a place where they can drop off their vote-by-mail ballot, or where they can register to vote, or go in and cast a ballot in the community.

And that includes, you know, some mobile units that we send out during that ten-day period to events where there are a lot of people already gathered. So maybe they don't even think about casting a ballot but were there and available to them.

That was an interesting twist during COVID. Because, of course, there weren't, you know, people weren't gathering in large places, so we actually were able to leverage those mobile units and put them in places where we had first responders. So for our medical professionals, we set them up in hospital parking lots and- and we went out to homeless encampments and- and areas like that. Hard to reach areas where voters otherwise might have a difficulty getting out to cast their vote-by-mail ballot, or- or to get to an in-person voting location.

So, in many respects, I mean, it feels like we're on one hand, we're kind of at the end of- of what was a long journey and- and reaching a- kind of moving transitioning from a project status to a program status. And then, on the other hand, it still feels like we're still in that infancy stage, because there's so much possibility of what we can do with this system going forward.

Fey: One of the purposes of this episode was to kind of juxtapose a very large jurisdiction with a very small jurisdiction. We talked to East St. Louis, Illinois, which is a very small jurisdiction — four employees in the election office. They're an under-resourced place. You know, they said, if they ever got money, the first thing they do is probably buy some- some new voting equipment. But you just as you just explained, essentially designed and built a new voting system because what was on the market didn't meet the needs of L.A. County.

And I'm hoping you might be able to address, from your standpoint, from your opinion, kind of the state of the- the voting system technology market, where- It's a relatively small market for election administrators to choose from. It's kind of, you know, whatever is certified, that's what you get, if you want something else, you know, kind of too bad. And you kind of broke that model and designed your own thing. And so what are your thoughts? I mean, have you- having gone through that experience do you think there's a better way for the United States to have voting technology for- for election offices?

Logan: This isn't an issue just for a large county. It is symptomatic of an issue that's- that's true for all jurisdictions, right. And I think we were very intentional. We knew that this was going to take us a long time, and we knew that it was going to take a lot of resources. And we wanted to do it in a manner that that hopefully, would shift the market in some- in some regard, and I think it has done that.

But I think it also was intended to, you know, put us in a position so that that work could be beneficial for other jurisdictions going forward. And I think we're still starting to see that. I think that there are some challenges in that. And I think that goes to- to your point is, you know, one challenge is the- the size of the market. It's a- it's a volatile market, especially coming out of 2020, and the- the lawsuits and allegations that have been leveraged against the voting system manufacturers. Like so many of the other mis- and disinformation out there that is that has been used, you know, certainly makes it challenging to get new entrance into the market and to have the resources to do new development when you're just constantly trying to defend and maintain the systems that are out there.

So I do think there – I think there's room for change. I think the- the movement, we're finally starting to see with the adoption of the VVSG 2.0 at the federal level, I think is pivotal to that. That speaks to some of the accessibility features that we talked about and that we worked so hard on in our system.

But I think the area where I think we still have yet to see change, and you touched on it, is the certification process. That the lifecycle of technology today and the- the pace at which the regulatory environment is changing in the elections environment, has to- in my opinion, has to evolve to allowing for more flexibility and agility in upgrading voting systems, right. So this- this idea that it's a complete end-to-end system and any change you make to it means you have to go back and start completely over with certification. A — that's a costly process, very costly process. And- and it's a lengthy process. So even just scheduling that based on election calendars, it's difficult. So, I think some flexibility in how that works is going to be important.

I think some of the work that you're seeing with some kind of foundational elements of trying to move to more- towards more open source, or at least partially open-source components and voting systems and looking at them as component-based systems. So for instance, our system, the tally system is independent, it can be used with a different type of voting equipment. Same thing with the ballot marking device, the hardware could be used with a different operating system than the one that we're using.

I think those are things that when you look at how large secure systems are being built in- in other industries, those are- those are things that I think, need to come to play in the elections environment, as well. And I think that, you know, we're starting to see the conversation around that and hopefully that'll continue to evolve.

Fey: You've been listening to "High Turnout, Wide Margins," a podcast that explores local election administration. I'm your host, Eric Fey, alongside Brianna Lennon.

A big thanks to KBIA for making this podcast possible. Our managing editor is Rebecca Smith. Our managing producer is Aaron Hay. And our associate producers are Abigail Ruhman and Katie Quinn. This has been "High Turnout, Wide Margins." Thanks for listening.

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After serving as Assistant Attorney General in the Missouri attorney general's office and as Deputy Director of Elections in the Missouri secretary of state's office, Brianna Lennon made the decision to pursue election administration at the local level. She was elected county clerk in Boone, Missouri, in 2018, making her responsible for conducting elections for more than 120,000 registered voters.
Eric Fey is a lifelong resident of St. Louis County, Missouri, who fell in love with election administration as a teenage poll worker. He has worked in the field for a decade, and became director of elections in 2015. He’s on the executive board of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities, and has observed elections in twelve countries, including Ukraine, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.