Tales of the Electronic Poll Book: The Story Never Ends?

Ross MillerOK, so now the buzz word of the day is “electronic poll book.”  Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller’s not-quite-new-idea to create a voter registration book complete with those lovely photographs taken by DMV personnel — It’s bad enough that photo is laminated to survive the travails of life in my wallet, must it be enshrined for all poll workers to inspect? — now comes with hint of Same Day Registration — the Bete Noir of vote suppressing Republicans everywhere.  [LV Sun] We may be arguing moot points.

There are twenty seven states currently employing various forms of electronic poll books, as further explicated by the Brennan Center:

“Jurisdictions in at least twenty-seven states plus the District of Columbia have used some form of electronic poll-book to process voters at the polls.  Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia have recently used electronic poll-books in at least one county within the state.”

The advantages, according to the Brennan Center, are easier, faster, and more accurate sharing of voter data; and, easier polling site administration.   There is nothing intrinsically nefarious about electronic poll books, IF the software and hardware works.

Here are some of the  vendors of electronic poll book services in the United States including: Datacard, Decision Support, Diebold, Election Administrators, Election Systems & Software, Ferey International, Hart InterCivic, Robis Elections, Votec Corporation.  The two highlighted are notorious for voting machine “hackability” and other problems with vote recording.   The problems haven’t disappeared.

Davidson County Tennessee, which contracted with ES&S for its electronic poll book, decided to revert to the paper books after incorrect ballots were sent out during the August 2012 primary in 60 of the 160 precincts.  The problems were identified as the result of a “software glitch,” which the corporation maintained had been rectified before the November election. [Tennessean]

Maryland, one of the first states to use the electronic poll book system, experienced problems with its Diebold system during its 2006 primary election when the associated cards needed to activate the electronic voting machines in Montgomery County failed to arrive.  [Fox21]

Aside from the technical problems above, both associated with corporations with an unsavory reputation in some quarters in regard to their voting systems, there are some other issues raised by the electronic poll book.

(1) The electronic poll book doesn’t solve the identification acquisition issues for voters.   Voters still have to get birth certificates and other documentation in order to register to vote.  For example, Nevada’s Office of Vital Statistics charges $20.00 for an official birth certificate.  Additionally, the office doesn’t handle online requests for birth certificates and directs those making the request to an independent corporation VitalChek to acquire the certificate.  There’s a little problem with this, as illustrated by the VitalChek instructions:

“You may order certified copies of Nevada birth certificates through VitalChek’s fax service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your fax must contain the following information: a valid Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover card number and expiration date; the full name on the birth certificate; the date of birth; the city where the birth occurred; father’s full name; mother’s full maiden name; your relationship to the person named on the certificate; a daytime telephone number; a photo copy of the requestor’s photo ID; whether you desire delivery by regular mail or express carrier; and the street address to which the certificate should be sent.”  (emphasis added)

And, there’s the problem — you must have a photo ID before you can order a birth certificate online from VitalChek toward getting a voter ID.   However, that’s not the least of the problems — you also need a personal photo ID or a driver’s license to apply for a birth certificate by mail from the Office of Vital Statistics.   The instruction is even in Bright Yellow:

NV Birth Cert Application

OK, so how does a person without a driver’s license or other official photo identification get a birth certificate copy in Nevada — either online or by mail — without already having the driver’s license on file?

This leaves us with the problem of the Unmotored Voter.  The person may be disabled and never applied for a driver’s license because of the nature of the disability.  A person may not have a driver’s license because of a learning disability which makes taking the written portion of the exam entirely too difficult?  A person may not have a driver’s license because he or she never drives because they can’t afford a vehicle and use public transportation.  A person in a nursing facility make have let a driver’s license expire without ever requesting a comparable state ID?   Nothing in the electronic poll book system really addresses the issues facing an unmotored voter.

(2) The electronic poll book requires an Internet connection, preferably a nice fast one.   If the advantages of the electronic poll book, such as speed and accuracy are to be garnered, then there must be an Internet connection.  In urban areas this may not be an issue.  In rural areas…it is.  There are broadband and satellite services available; they all expect to be paid.  When analyzing the cost of the electronic poll book system the cost of providing internet connections to rural precincts needs to be considered.

Indeed, the electronic poll book could facilitate same day voter registration, but it doesn’t solve the initial problems associated with getting registered to vote in the first place.   It could ease issues faced by polling site administrators, but if and only if the hardware and software leaves a paper trail AND doesn’t arrive with glitches included in the packaging.

If we would truly like to ease the burden on county clerks and other election officials in Nevada,  then we might want to consider extending early voting days which allows the impact of election day to be spread out over more days to avoid the ‘crush of the big rush’ on election day.  This would be especially helpful in rural counties which have few permanent employees, and find it necessary to hire temporary help during the “election seasons.”

Voting by mail also serves to ease the burden, especially in rural precincts.  The voting is more convenient for voters, and by extending the mail in days to conform with extended voting periods alleviates some of the burden on rural county voting officials.

What we don’t need, and shouldn’t support, are efforts to disenfranchise Nevada voters with unnecessarily burdensome identification procedures and requirements which serve only to limit the electorate to the affluent.  What we should support are efforts to make voting easier, more inclusive, and less of a biennial insanity season for hard working people at the court house or voting registrar’s office.

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