The debate over mail-in ballots heated up because of the spreading coronavirus that has postponed state primaries and intensified a partisan divide about the security of mail-in ballots. But as California officials attempt to move elections to all mail-in participation, that begs the question: what happens to those new, expensive high-tech voting machines developed by Los Angeles County and other jurisdictions?

The initial concern over the voting machines centered on their reliability, ease of use, and, importantly, whether the machines could be hacked. In L. A. County, they were used for the first time in the March primary—before the COVID-19 plague was full blown.

Now the concern about the machine is will they be an (expensive) one-election wonder?

To deal with concerns about spreading the coronavirus, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed executive orders to allow for all mail in elections in a number of coming local contests along with the runoff elections in Congressional District 25 to replace Representative Katie Hill and Senate District 28 to fill the seat that Sen. Jeff Stone resigned. 

Secretary of State Alex Padilla supported statewide mail-in ballots, recommending after the primary that Los Angeles County send every voter a mail-in ballot for the November election after the county saw long lines at the voting stations in March. Padilla has also forcefully responded when President Donald Trump voiced concerns that mail-in elections encourage fraud.

The issue has opened another partisan divide with Democrats generally supporting mail-in ballots feeling that it is more inclusive while dismissing charges of prevalent fraud. Democrats attempted to include funds for mail-in voting in the recent stimulus bill but were thwarted. Republicans have not abandoned the fraud argument and even cite the 2005 report issued by the Commission on Federal Election Reform chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III, which pointed out potential voter fraud with a mail-in system. 

If the state moves to an all mail-in ballot system, what happens to the brand spanking new machines? Los Angeles County spent 10 years developing the cutting-edge voting system at a cost of $300 million. Is that money lost?

If the pandemic recedes, there still may be voters who want to go to a voting station to vote. But the numbers will surely drop especially if a program to mail ballots to all voters is inaugurated and kept in place after the crisis. Many of the machines will be idled.

This situation could prove to be another example of how the coronavirus epidemic is changing life in both the short and the long term.