As states explore new technologies to facilitate the voting process, the use of electronic poll books (e-poll books) is becoming increasingly prevalent. Traditionally, voting jurisdictions have had paper poll books that contain a list of eligible voters in the district or precinct. E-poll books, which typically come in the form of a laptop or tablet, have the ability to do much more than look up eligible voters. See the section below on What Can E-Poll Books Do?
E-Poll Books in the States
In some states, the use of e-poll books is specifically authorized in statute. In other states, e-poll books are mentioned in statute but their use is not specifically authorized. Some state statutes don’t mention e-poll books at all, but state-level elections organizations issue regulations for their use. Finally, some states have some jurisdictions that use e-poll books but have no statewide guidance on their use. There are jurisdictions in 30 states that currently use e-poll books.
Five states certify e-poll books:
- Connecticut—Permits the electronic check-in of voters and stipulates that a device used for electronic check-in must be approved by the Secretary of the State (HB 5597, 2014).
- Indiana—Permits the use of e-poll books, requires certification by the secretary of state, indicates functions and security measures they must include (Ind. Code §3-11-18.1-12, §3‐11‐8‐10.3). Indiana’s e-poll book 2013 legislation is currently the most comprehensive in the country. The state partners with Ball State University to test all voting equipment, including e-poll books.
- Ohio—Defines e-poll book and permits the use of e-poll books certified by the secretary of state (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §3506.021). The Secretary of State issues rules and advisories regarding the examination, testing, and use of e-poll books.
- Pennsylvania —The secretary of state is responsible for certifying e-poll books based on the statutory requirement that “the computer list shall be in a form prescribed by the Secretary” (Pa. Cons. Stat. Title 25 §1402).
- Virginia—Provides procedures for the use of e-poll books and specifies that localities may purchase e-poll books that have been approved by the State Board of Elections. (Va. Code §24.2-611, § 24.2-668, §24.2-404 A.7).
Ten states have statutes that explicitly authorize the use of e-poll books:
- Arizona—Authorizes use of e-poll books and gives county election supervisors discretion to use them or not (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §16-511B, §16-571). Guidance for their use is also in the Secretary of State’s Elections Procedures Manual, which has the effect of law pursuant to Arizona statute.
- Arkansas—Defines e-poll books, permits their use and indicates the functions that they may include (Ark. Stat. Ann. §7-1-101, §7-5-107).
- Florida—Specifies that an “electronic database” may be used as a precinct register at a polling place that may include an electronic device for a signature (Fla. Stat. §98.461).
- Iowa—Permits the use of an electronic election register at the discretion of the commissioner (Iowa Code §49.77.1).
- Minnesota—Permits any jurisdiction to use e-poll books (a pilot project authorized in 2013 permitted the use of e-poll books in some jurisdictions) and sets specific functional requirements for e-poll books. (HF 2166, 2014).
- Missouri—Permits election authorities to use an electronic voter identification system or an electronic signature pad (Mo. Rev. Stat. §115.230).
- North Carolina—E-poll books are permitted in lieu of or in addition to paper pollbooks (N.C. Gen. Stat. §163-166.7).
- South Dakota—Specifies that e-poll books must be used if a jurisdiction chooses a vote center model (S.D. Codified Laws Ann. §12-14-17(3)). E-poll book security is also addressed in administrative rules (South Dakota Administrative Rules 5:02:17:14).
- Tennessee—Permits the use of e-poll books and provides procedures for their use at polling places (Tenn. Code Ann. §2-7-112).
- Texas—Allows for the use of an e-poll book with electronic signature capacity (Tex. Election Code Ann. §63.002).
Three states have statutes that refer to e-poll books without explicitly authorizing their use:
- Mississippi—States that nothing in the section on poll books “shall preclude the use of electronic poll books” (Miss. Code Ann. §23-15-125).
- West Virginia—Defines e-poll books and provides security procedures (W. Va. Code §3-4A).
- North Dakota—Requires the county auditor to deliver one paper or electronic poll book to each polling place (N.D. Cent. Code §16.1-06-21).
Six states have procedures or certification requirements dictated by the state, but not by statute:
- California—The secretary of state must certify e-poll books that are part of the voting system, but not those that are independent of the voting system.
- Georgia—E-poll books are used statewide, supported by the secretary of state and procedures for their use appear in the Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia (183-1-12-07).
- Kansas—E-poll books are reviewed (but not certified) by the secretary of state.
- Maryland—E-poll books are use statewide and tested by the State Board of Elections (SBE). The SBE also provides instructions for their use. Administrative code specifies the number of e-poll books per voting center and requires voting centers to have a broadband network connection for e-poll books (COMAR 33.17.04.02, 33.17.04.03).
- Michigan—The secretary of state developed software for e-poll books and procedures for their use.
- South Carolina—The state election commission provides procedures, training, and support for e-poll books.
Three states have jurisdictions that use e-poll books but without mention in statute or rule.
- Colorado—The centralized statewide registration system is managed by the secretary of state and is currently used in voter service and polling centers (Colo. Rev. Stat. §1-2-301, §1-5-302). In 2014, the secretary of state’s office began developing a new e-poll book.
- New Mexico—Consolidated precinct polling locations (e.g. vote centers) must have an Internet connection and real-time access to the statewide voter registration system (N.M. State Ann. § 1-3-4).
- Utah—The centralized statewide registration system functions as an e-poll book for polling places (not legislated or overseen by state).
- Wisconsin—Statute authorizes e-poll books if they are approved by the Government Accountability Board (GAB) (Wis. Stat. Ann. §6.79). In March 2014 the GAB conducted a thorough study of e-poll books and decided not to approve their use at this time.
What Can E-Poll Books Do?
There are a variety of e-poll books on the market, and many jurisdictions design their own. An e-poll book typically provides one or more of the following functions:
- Allows poll workers to look up voters from the entire county or state. This can reduce time spent checking in voters, one of the bottlenecks in the voting process.
- Allows poll workers to easily redirect voters in the wrong location to the correct polling place.
- Scans a driver’s license to pull up a voter’s information, avoiding data entry errors.
- Notifies poll workers if a voter already voted absentee or during the early voting period.
- Allows voters to sign in electronically.
- Produces turnout numbers and lists of who voted.
- Uses a photo to verify a voter’s identity. This could be a method to prevent voter fraud, but it is not yet in place anywhere.
- E-poll books in some states (Maryland and Indiana, for example) are networked and receive immediate updates on who has voted in other voting centers. Other states (Minnesota and Michigan, for example) specify that e-poll books may not be connected to the network.
Things to Consider
Jurisdictions that consider using e-poll books should also evaluate the following issues:
- Costs for purchase and maintenance.
- Challenge of training poll workers on a new technology.
- Safeguards against a cyber attack.
- Physical security of e-poll book equipment and the data it contains.
- Potential for a mass malfunction of e-poll books, whether by chance or deliberate attack, leading some jurisdictions to keep a paper poll book on hand.