Hennepin County to Roll Out E-Pollbooks

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Hennepin, Minnesota’s most populous county, is rolling out new technology this fall intended to speed check-in at the polls. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has more:

Keeping track of voters and stray absentee ballots may have just become easier in parts of Minnesota, thanks to new neon-colored election technology awaiting poll-goers at the check-in table.

Starting with [this] week’s primary election, polling places in much of Hennepin County are ditching paper rosters for bright green tablets to check in and register voters, as well as log absentee ballots.

Hennepin County voters on Tuesday will find electronic poll book stations just about everywhere in the county save Minneapolis, which will introduce e-poll books next year.

Election officials hope the check-in gadgets cut line times and leave less room for error in voter data.

“It’s an important step for us to modernize the election process,” said Ginny Gelms, Hennepin County elections manager. “It’ll bring that process into the 21st century.”

The County is investing over $2 million on the rollout:

Each e-poll book unit comes with an iPad, lime green stand, battery pack and mini printer. The technology is distinct from the state’s paper-ballot system, which uses a separate electronic counting machine.

The county paid $1.8 million to KNOWiNK, a Missouri-based company, for the e-poll book hardware, with the program software costing an additional $440,000.

Election officials anticipate the gadgets will last about six years, Gelms said.

Hennepin County is one of only two counties in Minnesota to use the technology, joining Crow Wing County in its partial rollout of the e-poll book program.

Hennepin’s move is partially the result of state efforts to study and promote e-pollbooks:

The state first established legislative guidelines for using e-poll books in 2013 after forming a task force on election technology.

While choosing between vendors, Hennepin County looked to cities like Minnetonka for input, which has been testing out various versions of e-poll books since 2009.

Hiccups over the years related to e-poll books have mostly been hardware-related, said David Maeda, Minnetonka city clerk. With some systems, laptops and clunky printers created a tangle of cords at check-in stations — clutter largely eliminated with the tablets and wireless printers, he said.

The technology isn’t new to the election circuit, with counties in 32 states already using e-poll books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In addition to Election Day convenience, another benefit of the new technology is a more seamless procedure for updating voter history post-election – and local clerks have been putting in extra work to ensure that all goes well without the rollout:

Aside from speedier check-ins, election officials say the technology will save time after election days wrap up, especially when the county transfers its voter data to the state’s voter registration database.

“It would take temporary workers months after the election to manually key in that information,” Gelms said. “Now, it’s done almost instantaneously.”

To prep election judges to use the new technology, cities scheduled an extra training session.

“There was still a lot of work to get the e-poll books ready,” said Sandy Engdahl, Plymouth city clerk.

During Plymouth’s e-poll book training session, election judges like Janet Campbell walked through different scenarios that may occur on election day and learned how to navigate registration and check in on the iPad.

“There are some judges without the experience with technology that are a little leery of it, but they’re getting good training,” said Campbell, who has worked as an election judge for 30 years.

“It’s nice that it’s the primary, and it will give us time to get used to the iPads before the general election,” she said.

One thing that local officials won’t miss (though it won’t be going away entirely)? Printed voter rolls:

Most election judges, Campbell added, were excited to ditch the bulky three-ring binders that poll workers typically leaf through to find voter names.

Not that the binders are going away completely. While technology glitches are rare, Gelms said, there’s an e-poll book backup plan for each precinct. Election officials plan to have paper rosters and registration forms on hand in every polling place — just in case.

This is a key development for the North Star State; Minnesota originally began the process of looking at e-pollbooks in the aftermath of the failed referendum on voter ID in 2012 but progress has been slow as policymakers and election officials studied and debated the features of the technology as well as its cost. Hennepin (and Crow Wing)’s move could represent the first key moves that could take the idea from discussion to deployment.

It’ll be interesting to watch how it goes … stay tuned.

2 Comments on "Hennepin County to Roll Out E-Pollbooks"

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  2. After working for 24 years in Minneapolis as an Election Judge and Precinct Support Judge, I’m working for Minnetonka Elections this year. I’ve been to a couple of trainings that included directions on the new E-Poll Books as will as limited experience during my service in a low turnout Primary Election shift. A few voters asked about the cost benefit studies, but they don’t see the back-end improvements in the data entry administrative process. Some were surprised to see the oath printed out and a couple even took time to read it before signing in for the regestered voter receipt that allowed them to receive a ballot. (The best line that typically got a laugh was EJ asking if they wanted to put it on visa or MasterCard since signing the receipt rather than the poll book was similar to a credit card;) The joke raised shades of poll taxes to vote, but most people can accept the shift to technology they are familiar with in another context.

    One potential backlog would be all three E-Poll books per precinct being up tied on in new voter registration, or re-registration, at the same time such as when college students decide to vote in groups as a social/civic activity.

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