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E-poll machines should work well this year, board of elections says

Posted: 5:00 AM, Oct 03, 2016
Updated: 2016-10-03 07:27:26-04
E-poll machines should work well this year, board of elections says

CINCINNATI -- New technology may have hampered the November 2015 general election in Hamilton County, but officials say they are confident that this year everything will go smoothly. 

Least year, new “e-poll book” machines let voters sign in to a polling precinct with an electronic pad versus a traditional paper polling book, but some of these malfunctioned. 

Combined with that, poll workers were still learning how to work the new machines and 10 of the county's 364 polling places had to resort back to voters signing in with paper polling books.

But Hamilton County Board of Elections officials say none of that will be a problem this year. 

“Those are things that you expect when you’re implementing a new technology, but it rose to a higher level than we expected (last) November,” Shelly Poland, Hamilton County Board of Elections Director, said.

The March primary elections went “surprisingly” well, as poll workers got a second chance to re-use the new system, Poland said.

Along with fixing the hardware malfunction in the e-poll book machines, poll workers are also getting more training. A new online course for this election season is being offered to poll workers to refresh their understanding of how to setup and use the e-poll machines.

“The e-poll book has been tested, and we also have backup paper ballots and backup paper lists across the state,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said, “so that what happened in the last two election cycles doesn’t happen again.”

Husted is also encouraging Ohio’s counties to adopt e-poll machines across the state, but counties won’t be able to use e-poll machines for the first time this November if they don’t already have them. This is because of the expected high voter turnout and potential for error when introducing new technology.

While 55 out of 88 counties already have e-poll machines, it’s up to each county when and if it does purchase e-poll machines. Each unit can cost between $1,300 to $2,500, and the state only partially funds counties for buying new machines.

“We have a bottom-up system of elections in Ohio,” Joshua Eck, Spokesman for Jon Husted, said. “For counties, when it comes to purchasing equipment and even down to what kind of polling equipment they’re going to use, they have the flexibility to purchase what’s best for their county.”

The last day for Ohioans to register to vote by mail or in-person for the general election is Oct. 11, and early voting starts the next day on Oct. 12.

The general election is Nov. 8. 

Liam Niemeyer is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at liamnmeyer@gmail.com.