“I’ve been doing elections for 33 years, and I think electronic poll-books have been the best advance in elections I’ve seen since we began computerizing many years ago,” says Wendy Noren, county clerk in Boone County, Mo.
What is an electronic poll-book? In Boone County, it is a system of networked computers in each polling place pre-loaded with data on registered voters. This system has shortened voter check-in time at polling places from 5 to 6 minutes to just 15 to 20 seconds, which everybody likes. That translates into huge savings; in 2012, Noren expects to hire 25 percent fewer poll workers, dramatically reducing one of her two largest expenses.
The other big expense? Training for poll workers. Here, too, electronic poll-books have provided savings. A well-designed, uncomplicated electronic poll-book reduces training needs and associated costs.
The key to making a successful transition from paper to electronic poll-books, says Noren, is usability testing. Her system was designed in-house, and at every stage the designers asked poll workers to try it out. As issues came up (scrolling, for instance, wasn’t easy), changes were made. In the end, Noren reports, her workers “love it.”
She’s thrilled, too, because the system collects data such as the time of day that people vote and what kinds of IDs they show, which she can use to help with allocation of resources for future elections. And that’s not all. Electronic poll-books also have meant that “each voter is being treated equally as we verify their qualifications to vote,” Noren says, something that had worried poll workers previously.
Electronic poll-books in Missouri were established by election administrators, but in 2011, Missouri Representative Tony Dugger sponsored a successful bill that will make voter check-in even easier. Under the new law, electronic signature pads, not unlike the pads consumers sign for credit card purchases, will be permitted. Using signature pads means that printers and stickers are no longer needed, which will streamline the process even further.
Boone County hasn’t experienced any difficulties with electronic poll-books. But in Montgomery County, Va., electronic poll-books did not properly open in six precincts during the November 2010 election, causing precinct workers to improvise a paper-based system. This eventually earned a letter of censure from the Virginia State Board of Elections to the Montgomery County Electoral Board. Better training and having a “Plan B” policy might forestall similar situations in the future.
In the 13 states that permit the use of electronic poll-books, each system is just a bit different. Many connect the polling place to a centralized database, although Boone County does not. Instead, Noren has opted to provide each polling place with one secure Internet connection to make changes to voter records, rather than network the whole system.
Full Article: [CNV] The Canvass – November/December 2011.