By Katy Owens-Hubler
When you go into a state to learn about elections technology, as NCSL did in Rhode Island last week, you expect to talk about aging voting machines and the possibilities for replacing them.
But more and more, when we’ve visited states as part of the Elections 2020 Project, we are hearing about “peripheral systems”—technology that doesn’t directly relate to the way that votes are cast and tabulated, but rather some other aspect of the voting process.
One of the biggest trends in peripherals has been in the adoption of electronic poll books across the nation.
Led by the Office of the Secretary of State, Rhode Island looks likely to take the plunge sometime soon.
There are jurisdictions in at least 32 states that use e-poll books (see NCSL’s webpage on e-poll books for details). And it’s not necessarily an all-or-nothing thing for states. Many have one or two jurisdictions that use them, while two states—Georgia and Maryland—use them statewide. Ohio is moving that way as well, thanks to a $12.7 million appropriation that will allow it to roll out e-poll books statewide by the November 2016 election.
Like many jurisdictions looking to use e-poll books, Rhode Island hopes to use them to:
- Provide local election officials with detailed information on where and when voters are voting, for more efficient planning and allocation of resources.
- To speed up the process of checking in voters at the polling place.
- For faster reporting of voter turnout information.
As more and more states use e-poll books, they face the question of whether or not these e-poll books should be tested and certified at the state level. Already, the equipment on which votes are cast and counted are usually tested and certified at the state level, and often the federal level as well. Requirements for voting systems as well as the process for testing and certifying them lies in state statute (see NCSL’s Web page on voting system standards, testing and certification).
Recently states are beginning to require that e-poll books used in the state go through this process as well. Currently seven states have statutory requirements to test and certify e-poll books—California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission keeps a repository of state e-poll book requirements to assist states that are considering moving this way, though there is not a federal program for certifying e-poll books.
As states adopt newer technologies in the polling place they are also seeking to engage a new generation of technology-fluent poll workers. Rhode Island is well-poised to take advantage of this, with a well-established high school poll worker program.
Katy Owens Hubler is a former member of NCSL’s elections team and currently consults for NCSL.