Electronic poll books will be making their debut this year in Berks County.
The county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday at their budget and operations meeting to approve a $1.1 million contract with Election Systems & Software to buy 440 electronic poll books.
Electronic poll books, which are updated in real time on a closed system, resemble a tablet computer. They will contain the entire county voter registration database and will replace the paper rosters of registered voters at each precinct on Election Day.
When voters arrive at the polls they can scan their photo ID or have a poll worker look up their information. Voters will be directed to electronically sign the device before heading to a voting machine.
The electronic poll books will be introduced during the May primary at the 25 largest precincts in the county. Those precincts represent about 40% of all county voters, according to county officials.
Assuming things go well in the primary, the plan is for a widespread rollout to all precincts for the general election in November.
Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, who has been leading the effort to ditch the traditional printed poll books for electronic poll books, said the move will help speed up and improve voting at polling locations.
The purchase of the books, however, is still dependent on the devices being certified by state election officials.
Christine Valeriano, a regional sales manager for ES&S, told the board Tuesday that she expects certification within the next few weeks. She said she's confident the devices will be certified by the commonwealth, pointing out that they are already in use in several other states.
Introduced more than a decade ago to replace printed pollbooks, the devices were used by election offices in 36 states in the 2018 elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
What can electronic poll books do?
An electronic poll book:
- Allows voters to sign in electronically.
- Allows poll workers to easily redirect voters in the wrong location to the correct polling place.
- Scans a license to pull up a voter's information, avoiding data entry errors.
- Allows poll workers to look up voters from the entire county. This can reduce time spent checking in voters, one of the bottlenecks in the voting process.
- Notifies poll workers if a voter already voted by mail.
- Produces turnout numbers and lists of who voted.
Karen Barsoum, assistant director of elections services, told the board the digital books will also result in a savings to the county because they require less manpower to review them after polls close.
"It takes a long time for our team to check our printed poll books after the election to send that information along to the state about who voted," she said. "If we can easily upload a list of who turned out to the polls that will speed things up by a few weeks and reduce the manual labor needed."