Gloucester County tests tablet app for elections
Written by Carly Romalino
Mark Harris orders his lunch on a Wawa touch screen, pays his bills online and streams movies on his tablet. But there’s a technology time warp at the Gloucester County Office of Elections, where Harris serves on the board.
Despite New Jersey’s move in 2008 to an electronic statewide voter registration system and the widespread use of voting machines, the state hasn’t kept pace with the rapid advancements in election technology.
Now, Gloucester County elections officials are getting tech-curious.
Harrison Township was the guinea pig Saturday, volunteering its fire district elections for a test of an electronic poll-book system created and hosted by a California-based company, Everyone Counts.
The firm last year won a 10-year, $17 million contract to host and maintain New Jersey’s electronic statewide voter registration system. Everyone Counts also handles voting for the Oscar and Emmy awards.
“There is no industry in the world that has to endure this mediocrity,” said the company’s founder, Lori Steele. Her firm aims to eliminate paper-based, error-prone systems of the “world’s most important process.”
The company’s state contract was one reason Harris reached out to Everyone Counts for the software test run, he said. Software consistency would make for an easier transition if Gloucester County ever makes the move to electronic elections.
When the polls opened at Ewan Fire House Saturday morning, one worker manned the traditional paper poll books. Another picked up a Samsung Galaxy tablet and logged into the e-poll book program, loaded with the names and signatures of the town’s 8,400 registered voters.
Steele said the digital platform, which marks names immediately, would keep voters from casting multiple votes in multiple locations.
What seems like a drastic upgrade for the 200-year-old election process didn’t faze most voters, Harris noticed.
“Young people who came in said, ‘Oh, cool.’ ”
In Gloucester County, electronic poll books would cut the $19,000 poll-book printing expense for each primary and general election, according to Stephanie Salvatore, the county’s superintendent of elections.
Whether they show up to the polls or not, every one of the county’s 200,000 registered voters’ names and signatures must be printed in the books — a total of about 40,000 pages. Plus, there’s the printing of 200,000 authority tickets, the small slips of paper voters take to the voting booth.
But the books can’t tell voters where their polling place is located or send a text with a map if the voter goes to the wrong location.
Post-Election Day housekeeping is cut down, too, Harris said. The apps can be synched with in-office software to automatically update voter registry information, a task now done by elections office workers.
“It’s a matter of just looking down the road,” Harris noted.
The software is “hardware-agnostic,” Steele explained, meaning it works like an app on any smartphone or tablet operating system. It is built with military-grade security features and is customizable for each state’s voting laws.
At least 25 states have used some sort of electronic poll books. New Jersey legislators and the governor would need to OK the measure before counties could go digital.