Signing in to vote goes electronic

Community members headed to the polls in August at the Massey Learning Center in Watertown to vote on their school district’s proposed budgets and school board nominees. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Voters heading to the polls on Election Day may be surprised to find a new, digital sign-in method in place of the large books full of names and addresses.

The Jefferson County Board of Elections, among others, is changing the manner in which people will sign in to vote, replacing the books with tablets, which they are calling electronic poll books.

Poll workers will use the electronic poll books to search names and have voters sign in directly on the devices. Then they will print receipts for voters to take over to another individual in order to receive their ballots. The devices will be held in cases on stands that flip around from the inspector side to the voters’ side to allow voters to sign in.

The names of all voters in Jefferson County will be loaded onto these devices, so the names can be looked up anywhere in the county and show whether they’re at their correct poll sites, as well as ensure that all voters only vote once.

As for the process of actually voting after signing in, nothing has changed.

Democratic Jefferson County Commissioner Babette Hall likened the sign-in changes to when people purchase things at the store using credit cards and signing for their purchase, quick and easy.

“With all the changes that have been going on, especially this year, I think it’s a good idea for us, the tablets have connectability, so inspectors will be able to see that someone has already voted,” she said. “We didn’t want to get them for the first time next year when the election is presidential, those are always busier with more participation.”

Those who will experience this new sign-in method first are those planning to take advantage of early voting. Early voting begins at 9 a.m. Oct. 26 and runs through Nov. 3.

According to Commissioner Hall, there are 69 districts, meaning 43 poll sites with two devices for each poll site for a total of 86, along with an extra 10 reserved specifically for training purposes. She said election officials wanted to make sure to have two devices per polling station to be able to use one as a backup if needed.

She said she expects the process to go quite quickly with the training that has been going on this past month. Trainees are taking to them quite easily, with those who hadn’t ever touched a tablet before saying it’s really easy to learn.

According to Commissioner Hall, two grants from the state, one for early voting and one for the poll sites, covered the cost of purchasing these electronic poll books for the poll sites.

The total cost for these devices in Jefferson County was $19,739.06, according to Republican Commissioner Jude Seymour.

Though this change has not been widely publicized, the Jefferson County Board of Elections is set to host four informational sessions centered around early voting that will also feature demonstration versions of the electronic poll books, according to Commissioner Seymour.

The sessions will be held on the following dates:

— Oct. 9: 7 p.m. at the Philadelphia Fire Hall, 1 Antwerp St.

— Oct. 16: 6 p.m. at the Clayton Opera House, 403 Riverside Dr.

— Oct. 17: 6 p.m. at the Adams Fire Hall, 6 N. Main St.

— Oct. 22: 7 p.m. in the Jefferson Community College Commons, 1220 Coffeen St.

According to Commissioner Seymour, state law requires that the boards of elections print emergency paper backups in case the devices fail, so that’s what they plan to do. He added that he has no concerns about their printers being used in high volumes for a few days and then stored until the next election.

Commissioner Seymour said that while he thinks this will speed up the time it takes for voters to sign in, he cannot say for sure because it’s new, a trial run of sorts.

With the electronic poll books certified for use in New York state, most boards of elections are taking advantage of them to improve both efficiency and voter experiences, according to St. Lawrence County Commissioner Thomas Nichols (R), and his county is no exception.

St. Lawrence County will have two electronic poll books at smaller polling sites, with more in the medium and large sites to make sure voters can go in and get what they need in a timely manner, he said.

Though poll workers tend to be a bit older, that has not stopped them from taking to the new devices very quickly in St. Lawrence County.

“We’ve had lots of comments from the inspectors, they’re very user friendly and similar to the ease of access of when people go to the pharmacy, so inspectors are saying they’re very happy with the technology on their end,” Commissioner Nichols said.

While he agrees that the new sign-in method should cut the time it takes to sign in and that it’s a step in the right direction, he said as with anything new, there’s a learning curve.

According to Commissioner Nichols, the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections has been going to the press to educate the voters and says county voters are cautiously optimistic.

“The election poll books are the only way we can track in live time who’s voting in New York state, a necessity in order to prevent people from voting multiple times,” Commissioner Nichols said. “One person, one vote is still the law of the land.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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