June 30, 2010 By Russell Nichols
In the 2008 general election, nearly 15,000 ballots in Arizona were tossed out because people voted at the wrong polling place, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
To avoid those problems in the future, officials in Yavapai County, Ariz., launched a pilot project that tested six new electronic poll books at three locations for special elections Tuesday, May 18. Rolled out for the first time in the state, the high-tech devices centralize voter rolls in a single database so poll workers can save paper and easily direct prospective voters to the right precincts.
"Our ultimate goal is to facilitate our voters a lot faster with less resources," said Yavapai County Recorder Ana Wayman-Trujillo.
Using a portion of a federal Help America Vote Act grant through the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, the county purchased a total of 110 e-poll books with plans to put at least two in every polling place by the November elections, Wayman-Trujillo said. The e-poll books promote a paperless voter experience, she added, enabling poll workers to identify voters and track voting histories simply by scanning a driver's license or state identification card. A window for electronic signatures replaces a signature roster.
"We love our poll workers, but sometimes people don't spell their names right or miss their name in the poll book," she said. "The system uses a bar-code system that immediately tells you if you're registered, in what precinct and the style of ballot you need. It's really going to streamline the way things are done."
Typically if voters show up at the wrong polling place, they would only be able to vote using a provisional ballot. But with the electronic database, officials said, the county can save money by reducing provisional ballots and the extra time it takes to file them. Now, prospective voters can receive a printout that tells them exactly where to go to vote, Wayman-Trujillo said. The machines will also let them know if a resident has already voted somewhere else or by mail.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett visited one of the e-poll book locations, claiming that voters "may get a glimpse at the future of elections."
"We should always be open to advancements that make voting more accessible and secure," Bennett said in a release. "I'm excited the county has chosen to take this cautious first step."
These devices are already used in other states such as Georgia and Maryland, which had well documented problems with e-poll books in the past. In Yavapai County, the machines have the entire county voter rolls of more than 120,000 registered voters in its database. For this election, the county consolidated the polls from 95 spots to 52. And moving forward, officials hope to consolidate even more, which could happen mostly because 50,000 registered voters are on a permanent early voting list and don't need to go to the polls, Wayman-Trujillo said.
Ultimately the county hopes to set up vote centers, which would free residents up from having to vote at a specific precinct.
"It's a different twist on the polling place concept," she said of the vote centers. "You won't have any wrong polling places. You could go to any one vote center on Election Day and vote. We're trying to implement those for 2012."