Cape County happy with performance of new technology in Tuesday's election

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cape Girardeau County officials are pleased with the electronic poll books and other new technology used during Tuesday's elections.

The county accepted a bid last month from St. Louis-based Know.Ink to test two books at a precinct for free during Tuesday's elections.

The polling books are iPads programmed to track and save voter information and were used to check in voters at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday. The polling place had 152 voters cast votes in the nonbinding presidential primary election.

"I thought the poll books were very efficient, and we're excited about them," County Clerk Kara Clark Summers said. "Election judges were very happy with them."

Know.Ink representatives were at the church from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. to assist election judges. Summers said she hopes to test the devices at more locations in April's election, although the voter turnout for that election may be as small as it was during Tuesday's election.

Only 8.07 percent of the county's 51,768 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, which was well below Summers' prediction last month of 32 percent.

Voters signed the iPad as well as the paper voter registration book to confirm their identity at the polls Tuesday. Officials will extract voter information from the iPads Thursday, Summers said.

If successful during the April elections, the iPads will replace printed voter registration lists and allow each poll worker to assist all voters. With the traditional registration lists, workers are assigned a section of the alphabet and can only help those whose last names fall in that range.

The county will pay for the devices, software, support and poll employee training if officials find them to be useful. Summers said she is not sure how many devices will be purchased or how much money will be spent on the devices. Larger precincts in the county are more likely to get the iPads than smaller ones, she said.

New ballot processing machines were also used at each precinct Tuesday. The machines cost $245,970, but combining precincts saved the county $40,000 Tuesday, Summers said. By reducing the number of precincts from 34 to 29, the county did not have to buy two machines for each of the five precincts that were ultimately merged with others.

The new machines were much needed, Summers said, noting that the old ones' rollers did not work correctly and their memory cards were constantly failing.

"We can't have that in our elections," Summers said. "We need good, efficient machines."

Rather than scanning only the marks made on ballots, the new machines can read and process write-in votes as well. With the old machines, those ballots would have to be tallied by election judges, Summers said.

Information from the machines is saved to an external memory device and loaded into a database, Summers said.

Election workers had minor issues with the machines -- namely paper jams -- but the tallying system's overall implementation went smoothly.

"It was more just learning pains than anything else," said Eric McGowen, the county's director of information technology. "We were just learning how the technology behind it worked if anything. There was a little annoyance here and there."

All of Cape Girardeau County's votes were tallied by 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, and Summers said she was pleased to get out of the election relatively early but does not expect that in November's election.

psullivan@semissourian.com

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