New technology can make voting a very efficient matter, making it possible to verify a voter’s identity at the poll even without a photo ID. But the new electronic wizardry does little to eliminate problems some voters face in registering to vote in the first place. Electronic poll books, which contain computer software that loads digital registration records, are used in at least 27 states and the District of Columbia. Poll books are emerging as an alternative to photo ID requirements to authenticate voters’ identity, address and registration status, when they show up at polling places to vote. Voting is the same, but signing in with electronic poll books is different. Poll workers check in voters using a faster, computerized version of paper voter rolls. Upon arrival, voters give their names and addresses, or in some states, such as Iowa, they can choose to scan their photo IDs.
Georgia and Maryland were the first to use electronic poll books statewide in 2005, said Merle King, executive director for the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Poll books can be used to verify voters’ identity at polling places, but voters can face the same obstacles securing official documents for the electronic books as they do in getting birth certificates, photo ID and related documents to register to vote.
Ken Kline, auditor for Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, is neutral about laws that require photo ID at the polls. But he said his Precinct Atlas, which is an electronic poll book, does a far better job of identifying a person than a poll worker glancing at a picture that might be outdated. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and his bipartisan Election Integrity Task Force proposed using poll books to connect voter registration from the state elections division and cross-reference that database with photos from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. This wouldn’t help people who lack driver’s licenses. In November, Minnesotans will decide whether to require photo ID at the polls.