Election Day Voting Just Got Faster In Hennepin County

Video by Bill Sorem; Text by Michael McIntee and Bill Sorem

The average wait time to vote on election day in Minnesota will soon be getting shorter, and if you live outside of Minneapolis in Hennepin County it will be shorter on Tuesday. That’s not just because turnout is expected to be light for the primary election — but because of new electronic poll book technology.

The iPad-based systems allow any election judge at a polling station to help any voter in line, which will speed up the lines. No need to queue up in a line based upon the first letter of your last name. No need to wait in a separate line because you need to register before you can vote.

All of Hennepin County except Minneapolis is using the system for the primary and general election. Minneapolis will start using it in 2017. Crow Wing is the only other Minnesota county using electronic poll books this year.

Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms demonstrated the new system for us. Most of the previous systems and checks-and-balances remain intact.

Video of how new system works, what’s different

Video above: Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms demonstrates the new electronic poll books

The system saves voters and election judges time in several ways. Previously, the registered voter signed on a line under their name in the poll book roster, affirming the oath printed at the top of the page. The new system prints out a paper with the oath printed on it. The voter signs the oath, hands it to a judge and then gets a ballot receipt, the ballot receipt is handed to the ballot judge to get a ballot. At the end of the day, the signed oath count, ballot receipt count and tabulator count must match.

New voters or voters needing to register are zipped through the system faster. Instead of hand-copying the information from a voter’s drivers license, a scanner now does that job — reducing the time needed and errors.

Some information has to be entered on the iPad, but drop-down menus speed up that process. At the end of the registration, the printer prints out oath and place for signature, and includes the new ID number for the registrant. The same rules as usual apply for use of utility bills and other forms of proof of residence.

Registered voters may still vouch for residency, but the limit on vouching is now reduced to eight. The original vouching number set many years ago was based on the average number of residents in a nursing home. Now there is a special vouching procedure for nursing homes to permit an employee to vouch for all residents.

Biggest change isn’t seen by voters

Perhaps the biggest change with the system is how absentee ballots are handled. Previously, the city had to manually line-out absentee voters in the polling books as the ballots were received at the city, including up to 5:00 p.m. the day before election. Ballots received at city hall by mail on election day were then put into lists and delivered to all precincts during the day with the local election judges lining out the voter in the poll book.

Under the new system, all absentee ballots go to Hennepin County. The new system electronically updates all the polling places as the absentee ballots are received, so no more frantic election day runners.

Handling absentee ballots efficiently has become more important because more and more ballots are being cast that way. Recent changes in Minnesota election law mean voters no longer have to swear to an oath that they meet the criteria to vote absentee. This “no excuses” absentee voting essentially has become early voting with voters being able to cast their ballot in person or in the mail up to 46 days in advance of the election.

The same rules apply: An absentee ballot prevents that voter from voting again, and if the absentee ballot is received on election day after the person has voted, the absentee ballot is rejected.

The push to use electronic poll books began when Mark Ritchie was Minnesota’s Secretary of State. Various systems have been tested for several years in places such as Minnetonka before making this year’s larger rollout.

The entire registering package fits in a small Day-Glo green carrying case. The system includes an iPad, wirelessly connected via bluetooth to the printer plus a stand for the iPad with a battery guaranteed to last all day.

Editor’s note: The writer, Bill Sorem, has served as an election judge for many years and is very familiar with voting procedures.

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