Minnesota Primary Winner Is…The Electronic Poll Book

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Hennepin County voters noticed something different when they cast their ballots in the primary on Tuesday. Things were faster. Not just because it was a primary with light turnout, but because the voter check-in and registration was done from an iPad.

Hennepin County launched the new voter sign in and registration process for all voters outside of Minneapolis for the August 9 Primary Election.

Election judges were generally ecstatically enthusiastic about it. “I love it,” said one of the election judges at Minnetonka City Hall. “It’s very easy. It’s very user friendly. It leads you through the process very easily. And it’s much faster.”

The process is faster and has less chance for error. It eliminates the shuffling of piles of paper in registration poll books. The speedup will likely be more apparent in the higher-traffic general election.

Each election judge can now handle any voter and can also register new voters. This eliminates separate lines based on last name, and a separate line for new registrations. New registrants can provide some of the information from a scanned drivers license — which avoids the election judge copying the long license number, a process subject to error. The iPads are only for voter check-in. Ballots are still cast on old-fashioned paper, leaving a verifiable trail in case a recount should be necessary.

Voter reaction

Most voters noticed little difference, but several commented that they liked the new check-in system because of the speed and the ease. However, one voter was unhappy that Minnesota has not gone to a requirement to present an ID. Minnesota voters defeated a photo ID constitutional amendment in 2012 and courts in several other states have recently ruled that voting ID requirements are unconstitutional.

Minnetonka City Clerk David Maeda has been working with electronic poll books since 2009 and has testified at the legislature about the importance of a multi-process terminal to use queuing theory (the intelligence gained by banks years ago in assigning tellers to handle varying traffic loads).

In addition to the speed factor, Maeda said that this process eliminates the two most common problems in past voting for many districts — voting in wrong precinct and creating a new registration for an already registered voter. The new county centralized absentee ballot reception (all absentee ballots go to the county, not the municipality) and counting eliminate another costly and error-possible process of manually lining out paper poll books, including revisions on election day. He also said this system will reduce the county’s cost in post-election processing.

The centralized collection of all county absentee ballots also changes election day reporting. The county adds the absentee counts into the city counts on election night and the actual absentee results don’t get to the city until the day after election.

The real test will come at the general election in November, but this appears to be a successful test run.

See a full demonstration of the electronic poll books system here.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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