Patience Please: Tippecanoe Still Waiting for E-PollBook Certification

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[Image courtesy of t-nation]

As electronic poll books become more popular – and prevalent – across the nation, there are increasing calls for these systems to undergo testing and certification like ballot casting and counting technology. The idea makes sense, but as one Indiana county is discovering, it introduces a new necessary skill for election officials: patience. JCOnline.com has more:

It all seemed so reasonable last year when the Indiana General Assembly adopted a law to require electronic poll books be certified.

But theory and practice are often different things.

“It has taken what was a reasonable process we’ve been using for five years and made it unreasonable,” Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey said, noting that primary voting starts here on April 8, and the county’s hardware has yet to be certified …

“Last year the legislature passed as part of their process that e-poll books now had to be certified. It seemed innocuous enough.”

But the devil is in the details.

The details are requirements of the state’s testing facility; while newer e-pollbook systems are able to move quickly through the process, older systems like Tippecanoe’s have hit a snag:

Indiana’s Voting System Technical Oversight Program, which advises the Indiana secretary of state, didn’t publish its criteria and recommendations until the late fall, Coffey said.

When VSTOP issued the criteria, it specified which computers should be used with specific software. Any county that had the specific match of hardware and software basically sailed through the certification process, since VSTOP had already tested those matchups. But since Tippecanoe County was one of the pioneers of early in-person voting and vote centers in Indiana, the computers weren’t the ones on the fast track.

“We use two types of laptops,” Coffey said, “so we had to send full sets of our equipment to this lab … so they could verify that the software we have selected works on our equipment that we already have. And if it doesn’t, I have to buy all new equipment.”

“As long as the software is certified, it really shouldn’t matter what laptop I’m using or what tablet the county is using,” she said, with a hint of frustration in her voice…

Tippecanoe County could have been on the fast track if it wanted to purchase a bunch of new hardware and software, Coffey said.

The good news is that the software has been approved. The bad news is that Coffey is still waiting for confirmation from the state-approved laboratory that the hardware has been OK’d. The lab received the hardware on Friday, and the test takes only about an hour, but as of Tuesday, Coffey has not received the certification.

Unfortunately for Tippecanoe, the delay isn’t just costing time but also money:

Tippecanoe County contracted with Robis Elections in Wheaton, Ill., to shepherd the county through the certification. Coffey had to submit one of the laptop models on which the electronic poll book will be accessed. She also had to purchase a specific, VSTOP-approved barcode scanner and provide the specific model of UBS ports that the county will use. Robis tested the computers and software, then sent it along to the laboratory, so Coffey knows it works.

She never doubted that it worked. But it isn’t certified yet.

Coffey knows they’ll have the certification before voting begins next month.

“I’m 28 days from the start of in-person absentee voting, and I haven’t even been able to touch my e-poll book yet because until they are certified, you can look at them, but I haven’t been trained or anything on this product.”

Because of the delay in certification, Tippecanoe County taxpayers will have to pay additional expenses to have a Robis Electronics technician train poll workers and have the Robis consultant on hand Election Day, just in case anything goes wrong.

Moreover, the clerk worries that there may be too much specificity in the certification and testing rules:

“As part of this, it looks like we have to send in every serial number for every laptop, everything we’re going to use, so they can record it,” she said. “Are they going to punish me if a laptop dies and I put a different one in with a different serial number? I don’t know.”

These struggles are likely to be mirrored in other communities as e-pollbook testing and certification expands. While such programs are important for safeguarding the electoral process during voter check-in, Tippecanoe’s experience suggests that authorities need to think about the certification’s impact on the election administration process.

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