"Trading in the Paper" — Nevada County’s Electronic Poll Book Journey

Prepared by:

Gregory J. Diaz - County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters
Sandra Sjoberg – Assistant Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters
Stacy Fisher – Clerk-Recorder Assistant II/ Poll Book Project Lead
Alfred G. Kildow - Editor


The digital age has changed the way people around the world process information. So, too, has digital evolution changed the way elections are conducted in Nevada County, according to Clerk-Recorder Gregory J. Diaz.

The careful introduction of Electronic Poll Books (e-poll books) in the county has already benefitted voters, taxpayers and the team of election workers who run the polls, tabulate the votes and assure that the elections are conducted lawfully.

But Diaz observes: “The best is yet to come. There will be a continuing adoption of advanced technologies here in our county as they are tested and approved, and before long we will have elections that will ease and even increase participation by voters, as well as make the efforts of election workers easier and result in greater precision.

“Costs will continue to go down, and our ability to discover voter fraud will be enhanced, benefitting all county taxpayers.”

The evolutionary pathway chosen by Diaz, his staff and county officials was both cautious and trailblazing. By carefully observing and analyzing how three other counties in California had moved into utilizing e-poll books (including observing on site the November 2013 election in Humboldt County) and studying how e-poll books are adopted across the country, Nevada County has moved forward quickly to capitalize on the birth of a competitive marketplace.

Under California election law, rosters with names of all registered voters in each precinct must be available for viewing at precinct polling places. Historically, these were paper records, compiled by hand and printed out weeks in advance, with a supplemental roster that was printed approximately five days before Election Day. All of the paper documents were distributed by hand to each polling place. Meanwhile, iPads and other e-tablets were gaining wide usage in many fields. Before long, a number of companies began developing software that would enable the use of e-tablets for the many and varied tasks involved in conducting elections.

Diaz found several companies selling e-poll books and related software dedicated to the elections process. Some were trusted vendors who were conducting business with the elections department. But there was a catch: the books and software were very expensive. Too expensive for the county, Diaz concluded.

 
eLect® Electronic Poll Book

eLect® Electronic Poll Book

 

At the same time, he recognized that e-poll book technology offered much beyond just listing names digitally instead of on paper. The e-poll books could reduce errors, prevent voter fraud, speed voter check-in, accelerate reporting of election results and eliminate hours of manual labor during the post-election canvass.

And Diaz, with his team, found a way to move cautiously, while eliminating the high up- front costs associated with the adoption of e-poll books.

For the June 2014 Primary Election, Diaz negotiated pilot programs with two vendors that would compete for efficiency and costs. The vendors supplied a combined total of 25 e-poll books at a very low cost to the county including hardware, software and on-site support.

There were challenges to be faced because the new technology required a steep learning curve for elections staff and poll workers. The pilot was successful because the Nevada County Elections staff enthusiastically embraced learning the setup processes, testing and training.

Both vendor programs worked well, yielding such benefits as the ability to redirect voters to correct polling locations quickly, uploading the voter rolls into the e-poll books a day before the election, much easier and more accurate election night reconciliation at the polling places, and reduced number of provisional votes, to name a few.

Diaz and his team selected a company named Everyone Counts to provide e-poll book software for future Nevada County elections. The contract was affordable for the Elections Department as it allowed the department to purchase off the shelf hardware (Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablets), which were then loaded with Everyone Counts software.

Everyone Counts has broad experience in United States elections, as it pertains to overseas and military voters, as well as international experience with elections around the world. Everyone Counts is in the process of having its voting system certified for use in California.

But the upcoming November 2014 General Election would present another challenge. Nevada County would be only the fourth California County to utilize e-poll books countywide. Again, it took a dedicated effort from election staff; the post-election analysis was encouraging:

  • Expedient uploading of voter information pre-election; reducing the quantity and costs of supplemental rosters
  • Faster check-in of voters
  • Ability to easily redirect voters to the correct polling location, reducing the number of provisional ballots issued
  • Substantially fewer phone calls from puzzled poll workers because of built-in prompts for poll workers
  • Easier Election Day for poll workers with smoother (and shorter) nighttime accounting and balancing of ballots resulting in faster reporting of election results
  • Capture of local data to produce effective post-election reports
  • Expedient uploading of voter information post-election
  • Ten to fifteen percent reduction of overall election costs

The bottom line, according to Diaz, was not just “the bottom line,” although the introduction of the e-poll books is directly associated with a reduction in costs and labor which will be fully realized over time. More importantly, it was the promise of the near and not-so-near future. The landscape of elections is changing and the county has invested in a technology that is flexible in its ability to grow in conjunction with this changing landscape.

Within two years, California will have adopted two new programs: same-day voter registration and VoteCal, the latter a state-wide voter registration database.

The adoption of same-day registration means that when prospective voters show up to vote but records do not show they are registered, they can go to the Elections Office where they can register and vote on the spot. Use of the VoteCal registration database will assure that no one votes more than once in a California election. Changes such as these are indicative that in the near future, increased technology will become a necessity in the operations of accurate elections.

One unforeseen benefit of the e-poll books is that the elections staff was able to gather more local data from the polling locations than previously, making it possible to quickly create detailed post-election reports. These reports will permit better management of polling places by providing “instant” data to guide deployment of resources, i.e. staffing, machines, etc. A sample of one of the post-election reports is attached.

The new electronic systems provide the ability to directly communicate with polling locations through each e-tablet or other device. This capability will allow elections staff to answer any questions in real time and keep track of the progress at polling locations throughout the day via a virtual dashboard. Staff will be able to manage ballot inventory (learn of potential shortages in advance) and issue notices and directives straight to the polling places. This function will enable the Elections office to influence and oversee the activities of polling locations across the county.

“Every election offers the opportunity to learn,” Diaz said. “The laws are changing and we have no choice but to comply while maintaining the integrity of our processes. E-poll books offer maximum benefits as well as the flexibility to assure that our investment will always comply with those thick chapters of California Elections Code that regulate our actions.

“Development of the ultimate e-poll book process is not complete. Like iPhones and e- tablets, the system will be revised and improved in the years ahead, yielding products that will continue to improve the election experience, safeguarding elections for poll workers, voters and our elections team.

“And I am proud to say that Nevada County is in the vanguard in assuring that elections are fair, efficient, accurate and safe.”

For more information please contact Stacy Fisher at stacy.fisher@co.nevada.ca.us