Berks officials say e-voting books ready to roll out countywide

Berks County will be rolling out new electronic ballot books for the upcoming primary election.

The electronic poll books, updated in real time on a closed system, resemble an electronic tablet. They are loaded with the complete list of registered voters for a particular constituency and will replace the paper lists of registered voters in each constituency on Election Day.

Berks County officials said the electronic ballot books will allow poll workers to quickly identify a voter’s status. (Courtesy of Berks County)

When voters arrive at the polls, they will provide their name to a poll worker, who can search for them by name or date of birth. Voters can also provide their driver’s license to the poll worker to scan the barcode on the back for immediate access to their information. The poll worker will then review the voter’s information and return the screen to the poll book for the voter to sign with their finger or a stylus. The poll worker will then review the signature with the signature recorded for the elector.

Stephanie M. Weaver, county public relations officer, said e-books allow poll workers to quickly identify a voter’s status. A message will be displayed if the voter needs to verify their identity, if they are at the wrong polling station, if they received an absentee ballot, or if they need further assistance. The electronic poll book also provides instructions to poll workers on how to remedy the situation or whether to continue with a provisional ballot.

And because the electronic poll books contain the full list of registered voters for that riding, there will no longer be separate lines for voters based on the first letter of their last name. All voters can register in any of the registers available at their polling place, which should further reduce queues and waiting times.

County commissioners last year purchased 440 electronic ballot books for $1.1 million from Election Systems & Software. The devices have been certified by state election officials, but counties have been encouraged to try them on a pilot basis before widespread implementation.

So the county piloted the books to five polling places last fall.

Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said the state’s directive benefited the county by allowing more time to find appropriate storage for the devices and train election officials on how to use them.

Stacks of ballot papers.  At the Berks County Election Services Office in Reading, PA on Tuesday afternoon November 16, 2021, where county employees are working to finalize recent election results.  (BEN HASTY??
Printed ballot books are being replaced with electronic ballot books in the May 17 primary election in Berks County. Officials say printed versions will be available as a last resort. (EAGLE READER)

Weaver said the limited start has gone well, so the county is moving forward with its plan to roll out across all precincts for the May 17 primary election. She said each precinct will have at least two electronic poll books on site, except for the new Morgan location, which will only have one because only a handful of voters reside in the borough.

Weaver added that there are 11 additional books that can be delivered to a precinct in the event of a technical issue and that representatives from Election Systems & Software will be available to assist any poll workers who may need help.

As this is the first time the books will be used in all constituencies, the Electoral Commission voted in April to have poll books printed in each constituency as a last resort. They said they hoped this would be the last time the county will have to print the books.

Weaver said that in addition to speeding up the voting process, the digital books will result in cost savings for the county because they require less work for workers after the polls close.

She said the election services team spends countless hours scanning printed ballot books after each election to send the state information about who voted. With the new machines, she said they will be able to easily download a list of who went to vote, which will speed things up and reduce the manual work required.

Weaver said training poll workers was a key focus ahead of Election Day.

What can electronic poll books do?

• Allows electors to sign in electronically.

• Enables poll workers to easily redirect voters from the wrong location to the correct polling station.

• Scans a license to extract voter information, avoiding data entry errors.

• Allows poll workers to search for voters across the county. This can reduce the time spent verifying voters, one of the bottlenecks in the voting process.

• Notifies poll workers if an elector has already voted by mail.

• Produces participation numbers and lists of those who voted.

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