Cuyahoga County elections officials plan to experiment with electronic poll books to verify the registration of in-person voters despite warnings that the devices are vulnerable to hacking and even politically motivated cyber attacks. Two experts contacted by The Plain Dealer said the so-called e-poll books also have spotty performance records in several places where they have been tested and could be especially challenging for Cuyahoga County because of its larger number of voters and past troubles with new election technology. “E-poll books are similar to other computer-based technologies in voting – full of promise and lousy execution in most locations,” said Candice Hoke, a Cleveland State University law professor and an authority on laws governing election technologies. “Our counties should be extremely chary of adopting them, but definitely a pilot project is a good way to proceed.”
County election officials intend to deploy the tablet-size devices in a few urban and suburban precincts later this year to see if they live up to their manufacturers’ billing as a way to provide poll workers with more up-to-date registration information and speed up in-person voting.
If the test results show promise, officials might invest up to $3 million to place the devices in the county’s 423 polling places, said Patrick McDonald, the new director of the county’s Board of Elections.
“They are good mechanisms to really advance the voting experience,” McDonald said. “It would cut down on those people disenfranchised who went to the wrong location and voted provisionally. And it would ensure the integrity of the election process.”
McDonald said the county will explore concerns about the security of the devices as part of the testing. Hacking, he said, is not possible unless the devices are connected to the Internet, which Ohio law does not permit.