iPads in county elections will cut down on voter wait time
By: Michael R. Smith
At one time or another many St. Charles County residents have experienced waiting in lines to check in to polling places while some election judges sit idle because their voters’ books contain different alphabetic lists of names. The head of the county’s election board says that time will soon be past.
“Yes, the (paper) ledgers are going away,” Election Authority Director Rich Chrismer said. With information stored on new Apple iPads “voters will be able to go to any judge that operates the iPad in order to verify their address.”
Chrismer said he is not sure the purchase and programming of the iPads and the staff training can be done in time to replace the paper ledgers for the next municipal elections in April. The iPads are one option of Electronic Poll Books — recent technology that allows voter data to be stored in laptop computers or electronic tablets
At its recent regular meeting the St. Charles County Council authorized Chrismer to make the $326,250 purchase, using a combination of budgeted funds and grant monies. Each of the iPads — at least two per precinct — will have all county voter data stored in them.
The purchase from vendor KNOW Ink will be made from a combination of budgeted funds and monies Chrismer acquired from grants. A state grant of $117,646 for the upgrade will pay approximately one-third of the purchase costs.
KNOW Ink did not submit the lowest bid, and County Council members wanted to know why a bid about $100,000 lower wasn’t chosen.
Christmer said he thought the iPads would be easier for judges to use. The lower-cost system consisted of a laptop computer, barcode reader, and signature pad. He thought it would be “cumbersome” for the election judges to juggle multiple pieces of equipment. Also, upon testing the different systems he said he preferred the iPads as “an all-in-one systems.” He said the KNOW Ink system has also been thoroughly tested because it’s currently used in 11 Missouri counties.
Simon Huang, director of the county’s information technology department said that an option was also considered to purchase the less expensive system and use his department to program and maintain it. However, he said the option would end up costing more than the difference between the two products.
Chrismer said that the iPads will also speed up the reporting process of his department after elections. Currently, he said it takes six weeks to record voter histories from the paper ledgers. With the poll books “after the election this data can be transferred onto our computer instantly.”
He estimated the election authority will also save $120,000 a year from leasing Palm Pilot personal digital assistants, which are currently used to store voter data, plus the costs of printing the voters’ books.
Though each of the tablets will contain all current voter information, Chrismer cautioned that it doesn’t mean residents can vote wherever they want. State law still requires voters to vote in their correct polling places.