How Electronic Poll Books Improve Elections

By Erin Ferns Lee, Marissa Liebling November 23, 2015
Photo: wyofile via Creative Commons
Photo: wyofile via Creative Commons

Modernizing our election procedures is a win-win for election officials and voters alike. One such commonsense reform is the adoption of electronic poll books. Election officials across the country increasingly utilize electronic poll books, and for good reason. The process that allows voters to check-in at a polling place electronically, usually on a laptop or a tablet, has saved counties time, money, and has improved accuracy. It also helps voters.

Here’s how it works:

Typically, a voter can walk into a polling place and check in with any poll worker with a tablet or laptop. The e-poll book program would then prompt the poll worker to ask for name, address, and signature.

How e-poll books help voters:

  • They provide a fast check-in process, reducing the propensity for long lines
  • They reduce the need for provisional ballots because voters’ records can be searched for in multiple ways. And if a voter is in the wrong place, she can quickly directed to the correct precinct in order to cast a regular ballot
  • They make it even easier to offer Election Day registration or corrections to voters’ records

How e-poll books help election officials: 

  • They reduce human error and can provide simple prompts providing reminders or tips for poll workers
  • They help with early voting and make it easy to offer additional locations
  • They can save time and labor and can free up poll workers to assume other roles assisting voters and troubleshooting
  • They can eliminate printing and shipping costs, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per election
  • They can be updated right before the election, reducing the rush to enter registration and updates in time to print and distribute paper poll books; and they make post-election updates much faster and accurate

Best practices of e-poll books:

Any new system brings with it unique issues and considerations, so careful planning is required to ensure technology helps, not hinders, election administration. It is recommended that poll workers attend trainings every election to update their knowledge of e-poll book technology. At least one trained election judge should be present at every polling place. Each jurisdiction should develop measures in the event of technical difficulties, such as keeping basic backup paper voter lists or having backup rolls that can be quickly delivered. When adopting e-poll books, officials should conduct ample testing and mock Election Day scenarios. It may be best to roll out a new e-poll book system during early voting or lower-turnout elections.

With strategic adoption, planning, and training, e-poll books promise to improve the election experience for everyone.