Inside a large room at the Berks County South Campus in Mohnton, a small group of technicians made their way slowly down long aisles of tables.
One by one they powered up electronic poll books, devices that will be used to check in voters in Tuesday’s general election, and ran them through a series of tests. The process is done to ensure that they were operating properly and all the information they’re supposed to contain was there.
County officials are hoping the process will prevent a repeat of the problems Berks experienced in the May primary election.
The introduction of electronic poll books, which were getting widespread use at all the county’s 202 precincts for the first time, faced a technical issue that forced the county to switch back to paper poll books shortly after voting began.
Getting the paper books to the polls proved to be difficult, in some cases taking hours.
Because of the challenges the county was facing, a county judge ordered polls to remain open an extra hour. However, that message did not reach every polling location.
In response to those failures, the county commissioners hired a law firm to investigate the situation in an attempt to pinpoint what went wrong.
It stated that issues originated when voter signatures were not uploaded to the electronic poll books before election day. And that mistake led to a chain of other problems that caused confusion and challenges at the polls.
The process of loading voter data onto the electronic poll books included pulling the data from the Pennsylvania Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors system, formatting it and loading it onto a secure portal to be downloaded by the county.
The data set consisted of five files the county should have downloaded from the secure site. It was the county’s responsibility to download the data and drop that data onto USB sticks to be loaded onto the electronic poll books.
It was determined that leading up to primary day the county only downloaded four of the five data files. The file that wasn’t downloaded was the one that was needed for the poll books to display the signature.
Ready to go
Stephanie Weaver, county public relations officer, said there is 100% confidence that the electronic poll books will be working correctly this time around. She said all five files are being downloaded on each device, which should ensure things run smoothly when voters show up to cast their ballots on Tuesday.
“We are checking that the signatures are downloaded onto each machine before we complete the testing,” she said.
But, because of the issues that occurred in the primary, she said the election board decided to have the printed poll books at each precinct as a last resort. And this time, those books will be given to judges of elections when they pick up materials before Election Day so they have them in hand should something unexpected happen.
Weaver said the county learned some important lessons during the primary and that officials are focused on making sure similar problems don’t happen again.
“The logic and accuracy testing for the electronic poll books is always important, but even more so this year after what we experienced in the primary,” she said. “We had a lot of discussion about what happened and why, and are fully prepared going into today to address those issues.”
Weaver said the elections office also has held about 15 training sessions since the primary for poll workers focusing entirely on the electronic poll books. She said the feedback they received from the participants was helpful and that they expressed a better understanding of the devices following the training.
“There was a lot of time for them to do demonstrations on actual machines so that they would feel more comfortable using them,” she said.
The training and testing, which began last week and took about four days to complete, will hopefully ensure the poll books operate correctly on Election Day
County officials invited members of the media to check out the process while it was in progress, saying they wanted to provide as much transparency as possible about how the devices are made ready for action.
Each of the nearly 405 electronic poll books the county will use on Election Day is being tested. This process is similar to the testing that took place last month on each of the nearly 800 voting machines and ballot scanners from the county’s 202 precincts.
The county rolled out the electronic poll books in the primary election.
Electronic poll books, which are updated in real time on a closed system, resemble a tablet computer. They are loaded with the full list of registered voters for a particular precinct and replace the paper rosters of registered voters at each precinct on Election Day.
The county commissioners purchased 440 electronic poll books last year for $1.1 million from Election Systems & Software, saying the devices will speed up the voting process at the polls and save the team at election services time by not having them scan the printed poll books after each election to send the state information about who voted.
When voters arrive at the polls, they 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 to immediately access their information.
The poll worker reviews the voter’s information and turns the poll book screen around for the voter to sign with either their finger or a stylus. The poll worker reviews the signature with the signature on record for the voter.
A message will display if the voter needs to verify their identification, is at the wrong polling location, was issued a mail ballot or needs any further assistance. The electronic poll book also provides instructions to poll workers on how to remedy the situation or if they need to continue with a provisional ballot.
The testing process
The county enlists the help of workers from ES&S to perform the logic and accuracy testing of the electronic poll books. They are joined by Anne Norton, the county elections operations and systems manager.
The first step in the testing process is waiting for the voter registration rolls for the county to be finalized — which happens about two weeks before Election Day. Once the registration files are finalized, the team uploads the list on USB sticks using a secure computer in the elections office that is not connected to the internet.
The testing process includes putting the USB stick into the devices to upload all the information they will need to function.
Norton and her team check to see that the files have been loaded correctly onto the machines, then make selections to ensure the devices are displaying the correct information. A checklist by each of the poll books instructs workers on the steps that need to be completed before moving onto the next poll book.
After the devices have been successfully tested, they are each placed in a case for easy delivery and sealed.
Source: Berkshire mont