Government Technology

David Macdonald: Alameda County Information Technology Director Tracks Ballots with RFID



March 3, 2009 By

After an election, it's not unusual for a few voting irregularities to pop up that leave observers scratching their heads. Even more frustrating to voters are the dumbfounded looks on the faces of election officials when these problems happen.

Many officials who struggled in 2008 will likely look to a man with much more of a clue on the matter -- David Macdonald, IT director and registrar of voters in Alameda County, Calif. In 2007, Macdonald implemented a radio-frequency identification (RFID) paper-ballot tracking system, aimed at avoiding some of the ballot-tampering problems that have plagued other counties.

Whenever a ballot box changes hands, someone should record the exchange on paper, which election workers often forget to do, Macdonald said.

"We have 831 polling places with almost 6,000 poll workers. That guarantees someone's going to forget something," Macdonald said. Gaps in the chain-of-custody record raise suspicions about potential monkey business.

To alleviate those concerns, Alameda County attaches an RFID tag to each box of paper ballots on Election Day. Memory packs that contain the ballot totals for each box -- therefore allowing for cross checking -- also receive RFID tags.

"The project has worked magnificently well. It allows us to identify early on if something is missing on Election Day," Macdonald said.


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