Voters will see the implementation of new system during the next election

With the election date drawing ever closer, Butler County Clerk Don Engels presented some new figures for the purchase of electronic poll books for the county to the Butler County Commission.

“In July of 2013, we requested some state aid in several pieces of computer equipment and training,” said Engels. “Our request for training was approved and we had our staff complete that training. It proved to be to our benefit because we soon found that the cost we thought was for only one person was in fact enough to train three. The equipment request from the state was denied because we already had poll books that were paid for by the state.”

Engels went on to explain a vendor for electronic poll books has already made a presentation to the clerk’s office for better equipment.

“We’re ready to buy these new electronic poll books,” explained Engels. “The big difference between what we are looking to purchase now and our request to the state was a change in the number of electronic poll books requested. We have gone from 81 poll books down to 65. We have determined that we will not need those additional poll books.”

The commission sought a bit more information about the poll books.

“When someone goes to the polls to vote,” said Engels, “the attendant has a big printout in front of them to allow the person to check in. The attendant asks their name and address and then they proceed to look the information up in this paper book. If the records in the book match, then the person is considered to be a properly registered voter.”

The new poll books will make the process much more efficient.

“With these new poll books, instead of having a big book the attendant will have an Asus tablet,” explained Engels. “When someone walks up to the poll worker, the computer will take a photo and they will be able to sign right on the tablet. With this new technology, we will be able to determine much faster if the person is a valid voter. Of course now the person will also have to present a driver’s license as well. The new books will also eliminate some of the problems we have been having in the past with double voting. If someone tries to check into a poll station after they’ve already voted, it will alert the attendant because the tablets all talk to each other.”

The old paper poll books, while working to get the job done, were a bit of a hassle.

“Not only do the paper books increase the amount of time each person is waiting at the poll stations, but when the books are returned to the office, the staff then has to review more than 50 books.”

“With these new tablets, where does the data go?” asked Commissioner Peggy Palmer. “Are these new tablets going to be secure?”

“During the election, the information gathered by these tablets stays on our local server,” explained Engels. “After the election is over, the information is shared with a state-wide server. As far as security, the vendor presentation mentioned a type of encryption that the tablets would use, but I’m not familiar with it personally.”

“Will there be any kind of human element as far as verification with this new method?” asked Commissioner Ed Myers. “Is there anything saying that my son couldn’t take my driver’s license and use it to vote? Will the poll worker have any kind of roll with this new system?”

“Some states do have a requirement that will require a verification of signatures,” explained Engels. “The poll workers are trained to look at the identification and make sure it is that person, but identical twins might give us some trouble.”

Along with changing the paper poll books, the clerk’s office will also be shutting down several poll sites.

“We’re closing nine poll sites throughout the county,” said Engels. “Several of them won’t even be noticed because they were handling less than 500 voters. On average they were serving 70 voters at each of these sites. The manufacturer of these electronic poll books recommends one tablet for every 500 voters.”

The new poll books promise to be an improvement over the previous methods of verification.

“We will have a couple units at some of the sites just in case something doesn’t work,” said Engels. “The cost of the the purchase will total $90,675 to buy the 65 new electronic poll books and each one comes with its own printer. There are only two vendors that are allowed to provide electronic poll books to us. The state regulates this quite a bit. The other vendor has the poll books we currently use in several of our poll locations and we do not like them. We have actually had several problems with them.”

The purchase of the new electronic poll books also comes with a maintenance agreement.

“After the purchase of the new electronic poll books, 2014 will need no additional funds for the maintenance contract,” began Engels. “For 2015, the maintenance fee will begin and will be for the amount of $7,085.”

The commission set up a fund to help pay for new batteries as well as electronic poll books just last year.

“There is a fund to help cover the cost for these purchases and maintenance,” explained County Administrator Will Johnson. “This year, we have $100,000 in reserve and it will cover this equipment and maintenance.”

The actual voting machines are also due for some scheduled maintenance.

“A motherboard battery will also be purchased with these funds,” said Engels. “On April 20, a technician will arrive to change the batteries in the actual voting machines. It is not something you can just walk up and pop the batteries out. The machines have to be opened to replace the batteries without voiding any kind of warranties. The technician will also run several diagnostic tests while he is working on the machines. This replacement will cost $18,000. Basically we’re ready to go ahead with this purchase. It will help the 30 sites that have been using the paper poll books.”

Voters will see the implementation of this new system during the next election.

 

Kari Adams can be reached at kadams@butlercountytimesgazette.com.