Early Voting in Connecticut – Part 4 – Electronic Pollbooks

This is the fourth in a series on Early Voting in Connecticut. See <Part 3 – New Voting Machines>

In this post we will cover Electronic Poolbooks – Why, How, and When we should add electronic pollbooks. Next time we will cover the alternatives for early voting in 2024. Hint: they all have advantages and disadvantages.

Our understanding is that UConn, under the direction of the Secretary of the State’s (SOTS) Office is already evaluating electronic pollbooks. Presumably they could be selected by the SOTS sometime in 2023.

Why Electronic Pollbooks (ePollbooks)

The answer here is not as simple and clear as many would suggest. There are two advantages often touted for ePollobooks which are not actually true:

First, they are often touted as speeding up checkin such that fewer pollworkers are required. Actually, they don’t significantly speed up checkin. Sometimes they speed it up a little, sometimes they slow it down a bit. There are several variables here: The model of electronic pollbooks employed, what the State checkin requirements are, checkers capabilities, checker training, and how the pollbooks are implemented (including are they connected to a central database which may slow down the process). Suffice to say that no matter if 1, 2, 3, 4, or more checkers and lines are required today, likely that number will still suffice and be required.

Most states require voters to sign a pollbook or sign electronically with an electronic pollbook, Connecticut does not. Some print a pass for the correct district for each voter – now Connecticut may need to do that to tell ballot clerks what ballot to give to a voter – especially for early voting. All these things take extra time on the part of checkers – or maybe save time in other states over what they were doing without ePollbooks.

Second, they save paper because paper pollbooks do not have to be printed. In fact, they still need to be printed as a backup for when electronic pollbooks fail. They fail for many reasons: software glitches, download glitches, power failures, hardware failures etc. So not only are paper backups required, the checkers must be ready to immediately fallback on paper pollbooks.

There are advantages:

Any voter can go to any line as ePollbooks are usually connected within a polling place and coordinate a master checklist between them. That can speed the process a bit and also allow for easily reducing the number of checkers in slow periods and similarly facilitate adding checkin lines.

A more comprehensive voter search may be available. Easily finding and restoring voters moved off the rolls for not voting recently, finding voters added supplementally, and finding which polling place to which a voters is assigned.

All checkers can handlevoters in multiple districts in a polling place (especially early voting places).

Especially for early voting places, if connected to the Central Voter Registration System (CVRS), then more than one polling place can handle voters in a municipality. Also, even when not connected a single polling place, they speed the setup for Election Day voter lists. They can simply be uploaded to the CVRS to then update pollbooks for Election Day.

Finally, they can save registrars a lot of time updating the CVRS with who voted after the election. Today it is a time-consuming manual process, to data enter who voted from the paper checklists.

How to Add Electronic Pollbooks

Most important in evaluating them is testing them with actual typical pollworkers and people acting like a range of average voters. How fast can the average pollworker type in the addresses and select voters? How fast can they do searches when the voter is not initially found? What does it take to setup the systems in a typical polling place? What additional time does it take to provide voters with receipts for which district they are in?

ePollbooks should be tested for compatibility, ease of use, and performance in downloads, uploads, and connectivity to the CVRS. And what happens during Election Day or early voting when connection is lost? Our assumption though is that especially on Election Day many, if not most, polling places will not be connected centrally, since many polling places do not have internet and may also be in poor cell communications territory.

And like new scanners, ePollbooks should be purchased and maintained by the State. Each polling place should have one station (likely a laptop) for the maximum number of checkers in that polling place, plus one or two extras. That is perhaps $500-1000 per station, plus annual maintenance.

Like implementing new machines and early voting it takes procedure development, planning, training of registrars and pollworkers.

But unlike some other changes ePollbooks can be implemented in stages: Start with a few polling places using them in parallel with paper pollbooks or just using them officially, verifying their effectiveness and improving procedures before a full rollout. Like other changes, they can best be implemented in lower volume elections or primaries.

When to Add Electronic Pollbooks

As we discussed in Part 2, change should be limited to one big thing at a time, if possible, done in part first, and avoiding a big change in even year elections.

There is good news for electronic pollbooks here. It would be possible to do a small test either in the September 2023 Municipal Primaries, the November 2023 Municipal Elections, or both. Then expended and made universal across the State in the 2024 Presidential Primaries or the August Primaries, so every municipality and checker could be experienced in time for the November 2024 election with some of their benefits available for early voting.

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