Updated: 10/09/2013 2:36 PM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen
Photo: MGN Online
Voters who show up at some Minnesota polling places next month will encounter sign-in stations equipped with iPads or bar code scanners as part of an experiment designed to test whether more technology would cut wait times, save money and inspire more confidence in the election process.
The electronic roster, or e-poll book, pilot project will take place in fewer than 10 cities and counties, but the results are being closely monitored by election officials across the state because lawmakers could broaden the technology's use - if the price is right. On that score, a task force of lawmakers, elections administrators and others watching over the project met Wednesday to discuss programming challenges, hardware costs and data security.
"We're not rushing into this," said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the state's chief elections official.
The rosters are an alternative to paper sign-in sheets at precincts. They contain the same type of information: registration data, an indication if someone already voted or has had a challenged registration status.
In 2012, Minnesota voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required voters to show a photo ID to obtain a ballot. The electronic poll-book experiment was approved last spring and was framed by some as an option for better verifying voter eligibility by tapping into real-time information without imposing new restrictions.
John Medcalf, chief executive of San Diego-based Votec, a company that specializes in electronic roster systems, said the systems speed voters through polling stations.
"The poll workers will be very well served," MedCalf told the task force, which has heard from several industry vendors in recent months. "It takes the stress out of the voter hovering over them waiting for them to find their name."
The entities participating in the pilot are having most of their equipment supplied for free by vendors, who see the chance to land work if Minnesota leaders like what they see. Along the way, some vendors have given a glimpse of possible costs, with estimates ranging from around $1,100 per unit for equipment and software to as much as $6,800.
Minnesota has more than 4,000 precincts, and many would need multiple systems to handle voter volume. But some lack the type of Internet capability needed to accommodate real-time updates, and others have so few voters coming through that the upfront costs wouldn't make sense.
Officials say a shift could save money and reduce errors in the long-run because postelection tasks that command hours of manual data entry could be done with the click of a button.
"Long term, I see this as the way we're going to be doing it," said David Maeda, who as city clerk in Minnetonka is coordinating the pilot project in seven of the suburb's 21 precincts. "We're going away from paper."
The other test sites are in Dilworth, Moorhead, St. Anthony and St. Paul. Elections offices for Clay, Hennepin and Ramsey counties are also involved. Odd-year elections typically have low turnout, so there's some question about how much election administrators will be able to glean from the project. Election Day is Nov. 5 this year.
The task force will prepare a report for state lawmakers by the end of January.
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