Election system moving to digital age

Thanks to the impending distribution of updated county election equipment;  area election judges will get to say goodbye to one of the least enjoyable aspects of overseeing local elections– dealing with the cumbersome heavy equipment.

The reaction by election officials to the new PollPad and Verity writer and counter devices was very positive, during a demonstration for invited officials representing the county’s 23 precincts.

November 2018 elections will see Chisago County voters sign-in at their polling place on a tablet, replacing the need to lug around volumes of books with voter names alphabetized.

Registration will be swiftly verified. The signature will go onto a receipt-sized slip of paper.  Voters will have their own I.D number.

If there are questions or a challenge to the voter’s status, the device will prompt the polling site official and walk the voter through election day registration.  If the voter has brought someone to vouch for them as a precinct resident, the device can even handle that situation.

Election officers had the rare opportunity to gather together at the Chisago County Government Center before Christmas, for the initial walk-through.  Deputy Auditor Bridgitte Konrad assured everybody there will be additional sessions with the equipment after it arrives.  The county is awaiting word on how much funding it will be eligible for through the state.

The Poll Pad travels in a non-destructible carrying case and has been put into use in all of Canada and 480 jurisdictions in the U.S., according to Tim Vlach of Know-ink, an “innovative election solutions” firm.

The Verity writer and ballot scanner devices will make slick work of even lengthy ballots.

Justin Morris of Hart Inter Civic, pictured, set up a polling place for his demonstration, in about three minutes. The machines calibrated and “booted” themselves up and were ready to use in another three minutes.

The writer and scan counter are approximately $10,000 as a set.

Morris shared that the equipment has a capability through a modem to transmit final election reconciliation reports electronically.
Chisago County, however,  has opted for the time being,  to continue to collect hard copies when polls close.    The devices generate printed reports and tally results are made available nearly in real time.  Chisago County Auditor Dennis Freed commented that not only is the ability for secure remote  transmission very expensive– “…it’s also a public perception issue,” he said.  The county auditor  prefers continuation of delivery of physical ballots versus relying on purely digital data.

Vlach explained that all transactions and voter registrations are “locked” into the device and the systems’ security is second to none.
The registering and ballot-casting activity data interfaces almost instantaneously with all the county’s other devices, tracking precinct activity.  Vlach showed how a name entered in a mock sign-in account, came up as “AB” because the person had already submitted an absentee ballot.

Minnesota’s Secretary of State office worked with Poll Pad to design a system that adheres to Minnesota voter registration laws.  Large counties using Poll Pads include Hennepin, Stearns and Crow Wing.  In the 2016 general election over 8 million voters were exposed to a Poll Pad, Vlach continued.

Konrad, Chisago County Deputy Auditor, said the number of votes in any precinct will help determine how many tablets will be made available. The county estimates at least two on-site and up to seven or more,  depending on precinct activity.  Poll Pads are $1,280 a piece.

Konrad expects to hear back on a grant the county applied for,  through state election funding programs, in January.  Chisago County has budgeted $300,000 for costs associated with this equipment upgrade.

As soon as the county knows how many devices it can afford, a series of hands-on trainings will be scheduled, Konrad told the assembled election officials.  will also provide for public tests and practices on the equipment.

The equipment will not be ready for use in township elections in March, however.

Election officials heard of the many positives the equipment provides.

There will be a reduction in expenditures for storage, paper products, pre-printing ballots and efficiencies  may even result in the need for fewer election judges.

Another nice thing about the equipment will be highlighted in a new March presidential primary date coming in 2020.  With these devices, there’s no need to express your party preference out-loud.

The Poll Pad tablet can also be used at any remote location to do a registration drive.  The county could set them up at the county fair, care facility or civic celebration and register voters.

Disabled persons are also accommodated with a specially designed machine, that is even capable of reading in a mechanized voice contents on a ballot.

And, every election day,  voters are guaranteed to arrive at the wrong polling place. Election judges keep others waiting while they check a map and call other polling sites, to see if the voter is on their list.  The Poll Pad tablet screen will tell each voter they are at an incorrect polling place and provide the correct polling location.

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