MUSCATINE, Iowa — As the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision Monday that will affect the future of states' voter-ID laws, local poll workers were getting a look at what could well be the future of voting.
Perhaps as soon as the Sept. 10 school election, the work of the precinct official will involve computers, scanners — and plenty of stickers.
And there will be very few forms to fill out — welcome news to the 23 or so precinct workers who received a demonstration Monday morning. Supervisors received their demonstration Monday afternoon from Cerro Gordo County Auditor Ken Kline.
The board, which has been considering purchasing an election management system for several months, is scheduled decide next week whether to purchase the system developed by Cerro Gordo County, which is usedin 58 of Iowa’s 99 counties. The estimated price tag is $51,600, according to Muscatine County Auditor Leslie Soule. The expenditure is included in the 2012-13 county budget and could be carried over into the 2013-14 budget.
If supervisors approve the purchase on Monday, June 24, Soule plans for each of the county’s 23 precincts to be equipped with two laptop computers, two printers and two scanners, which can scan a voter’s driver’s license or voter identification card to readily identify the voter and display the voter’s name, address and other pertinent information on the screen.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz's office is developing a competing system, but it’s still being tested, Soule said. Supervisor Tom Furlong said he’s seen both voting systems demonstrated. “Cerro Gordo’s is head and shoulders above the Secretary of State’s,” Furlong said.
County precinct workers said they liked what they saw Monday.
“It gives you a step-by-step guide about what you’re doing,” said Mary Danner of Letts, who works during election days at Central Middle School’s Precinct 5. “As a precinct worker, I feel a lot better about that.”
“This is really user-friendly,” said Pat Hafner, who works at the Conesville precinct. “It will save [precinct workers and voters] a lot of time, especially during the general election.”
Following the presidential election of 2008, Kline and a team of information technology workers developed a precinct election management system called Precinct Atlas. Using off-the-shelf hardware, the program guides the precinct official through the correct process to check in and validate each voter, based on the voter’s specific situation.
“It’s built from the precinct worker’s perspective,” Kline said.
The computer program and equipment allows precinct workers to take voters step by step through common questions and scenarios that occur during every election, including:
- Voters trying to cast a ballot at the precinct when they’ve already been sent an absentee ballot
- People trying to vote at the wrong precinct because they’ve recently moved
- Same-day voter registration
- Felons trying to vote. In that case, the felon will be given a discrete sticker, rather than have the precinct worker telling the person that a felony conviction precludes voting.
Each situation — including a run-of-the-mill vote — produces a sticker, which is affixed to an election form that currently must be filled out by hand.
In Cerro Gordo County, the system has reduced the number of provisional ballots cast to almost to zero, Kline said.
Near the end of the presentation, Supervisor Scott Sauer took an informal poll of the poll workers. “Is this a need? Or a want?” Sauer asked.
“A need!” the precinct officials said as one.
“I’d say,” he said with a smile, “we have a majority vote.”