Pike considers replacing voting machines with tablets

Bill Lowe demonstrates a tablet to election officials Tuesday.

Pike County election commissioners proposed the purchase of electronic pollbooks to county supervisors Tuesday, saying the switch would save time and money, and cut down on voter and pollworker confusion on Election Day.

Circuit Clerk Roger Graves and election commissioner Chair Trudy Berger presented an overview of the electronic pollbooks to supervisors.

They will present a proposal that lays out the number of machines they are looking at purchasing at the Dec. 30 board meeting.

After the meeting, Election Systems & Software representative Bill Lowe demonstrated the pollbooks, which are essentially tablet computers with voter information downloaded onto them.

The county is considering purchasing 55 of the Toshiba tablets that are pre-installed with election software. “Consider the software as a customized app,” Lowe said.

The tablet serves as both a registry of voters and will take the place of electronic voting machines that have been around for about a decade.

The tablet comes with a “lazy Susan” mount that can flip the tablet around called, allowing a pollworker to identify and input the voter information, then flip the tablet around for voters to use. This will eliminate two steps in the voting process in which pollworkers are needed to scroll through a pollbook, then hand out an encoder.

It also saves time.

The software allows the worker to input the name of the voter into its county wide voter database.

The tablets, two per precinct, will have an internal backup. Tablets are automatically updated and any tablet can reflect vote tallies from every precinct in the county.

Additionally, the camera function of the tablet can scan the bar code of a driver’s license or other approved IDs.

“A driver’s license, when you think about, it is almost as unique as a fingerprint,” Lowe said.

Both tablets are synched to one another by Bluetooth.

Election officials said the software’s ability to assign ballots to voters in split precincts could be the most important feature.

Graves said officials would have pitched the tablets to the board previously, but the software at the time did not have a remedy for split precincts — one of the biggest headaches in conducting elections.

“We could have been on the cutting edge and been one of the first counties to approach you with this, but they had not perfected the split ballots,” he said.  “That’s one of the biggest concerns we had — splits. That is a headache. Well, now that’s not an issue.”

For primaries, the software can separate Republican or Democratic ballots.

Graves said he would like to get the new technology in before the March primaries.

“We really want to get these ready by March. It’s a slower election and it’ll take some time to get workers familiar with the new system,” he said.

Electronic pollbooks are in use in 32 states. Eleven counties in Mississippi use electronic pollbooks, including Lincoln County.

“We’ve reached a critical mass. This is the year we would like to introduce the technology in Pike County,” Berger said. “The time is here.”

Berger estimates the total cost of the tablets to be about $1,000 a piece after licensing and memory cards are considered.

She said the county is looking to purchase two tablets for each of the 25 precincts, plus five additional tablets.

The total cost would come close to $55,000.

State funds would help pay for the tablets, Berger said.

“We get a check roughly twice a year, there are two fund we get money out of from the state that the legislature has established. They are exclusively for election equipment and go to all 82 Mississippi counties. It would more than cover the costs,” she said.

The new technology would also eliminate the need for as many pollworkers. Berger said officials in Marion County, who recently acquired the new technology and used it in their November election, were able to run the election with two fewer poll workers per precinct than before.

Berger said the new technology should alleviate future election challenges that are based on human error.

“That’s a huge relief — to know with virtual certainty that voters will be at the right precinct and will receive the right ballot,” she said.

“To me it sounds reasonable. In terms of pros and cons, on the surface it looks like something we should do. I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages,” Supervisor Faye Hodges said. “During the school board election it was evident a number of people got the wrong ballots. That’s my main concern. To me, giving the correct ballots to voters in split precincts, that’s the real value in this. It’s a sustainable system

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