Analysis

Electronic Poll Books in Ohio and Texas

Previous dispatches have examined the costs and benefits of using electronic poll books—digital lists that replace the traditional paper rolls used to check voters in at the polls—as well as their popularity among election officials. However, implementation of these systems varies based on each state’s legal and administrative context, as officials from Ohio and Texas demonstrated during the Future of Voting Systems Symposium, hosted in February by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

Ohio mandates that voting technology be certified according to standards developed by the EAC, but the commission did not create certification criteria specifically for e-poll books, so the state had to pass new legislation exempting these books from the federal standards and create a new state process. 

Ohio’s certification for e-poll books involves three steps:

  • Testing by an independent lab to examine the machine’s manufacturing processes, hardware, and user manuals, and to ensure that the technology can perform all of the functions required by law, such as generating a complete and accurate list of people who had voted by a certain time of day.
  • Examination by the state board of voting machine examiners, which tests equipment for usability by poll workers.
  • Certification of tested machines by the Ohio secretary of state.

In Texas, the process for utilizing e-poll books is very different because in that state the responsibility for evaluating and purchasing technology falls to county election officials. About 200 of the state’s 254 counties have chosen to use e-poll books, with systems purchased from seven different vendors. 

Texas has no certification or testing requirements for such equipment, but it does have laws about using and reporting voter registration data. For instance, the state requires that all poll books include certain fields from the voter registration database, including a person’s former name and suffix, to help ensure that the correct voter is checked in. State election officials discovered that some counties purchased e-poll books that were unable to meet these requirements. 

The Texas secretary of state’s office does not have authority to establish certification or approval processes for election technology, but it needed to ensure that e-poll books would meet state requirements for checking in voters, interacting with other technology, and reporting data to the state voter registration system. State officials are developing a handbook outlining the tasks e-polls books should be able to complete to comply with Texas law as well as additional functions that could reduce the workload of county elections staff, such as automatically generating some or all of the 29 Election Day forms and reports mandated by the state. They plan to release this handbook in summer 2015. 

Presentations from the Future of Voting Systems Symposium are available via the archived webcast

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