Orange County preparing for early voting Commissioner says Board of Elections will soon put out bid for electronic poll book vendors
Photo by Erika Norton
Orange County is preparing for early voting this November election by looking at various electronic poll book vendors, including Knowink's Poll Pads.
BY ERIKA NORTON GOSHEN — With early voting set to begin in New York State this November, Orange County is preparing to switch to electronic poll books so voters can start casting ballots 10 days before an election. Starting with the general election this fall, counties will have to open a specified number of polling sites — at least one per 50,000 registered voters — 10 days before every election, including primaries and special elections. The state Legislature approved early voting statewide in January, creating a time crunch for counties to be prepared by the November election. By switching to electronic poll books instead of the customary paper signature books voters use to sign in, counties will be able to keep track of who voted early and prevent people from voting again on election day. According to Board of Elections Commissioner David Green, Orange County will need a minimum of four early voting locations to comply with the law, but after discussing it with Commissioner Louise Vandemark, they have decided to go with five locations. He said they have the five locations picked out and are in the process of reaching out to each of them to discuss the plan. One confirmed location will the the County Board of Elections office on Webster Avenue in Goshen. Electronic poll booksThe Board of Elections has also been in the process of gathering information about electronic poll book companies and will put out a bid for a vendor soon. “We have to be ready for is the November general election, and then we have to have it here to train our individuals on whoever's working early voting for us so they are familiar with the equipment,” Green said, “so that’s why we need to very soon put a bid out.” On March 6, the board held a demonstration of what using electronic poll books might look like in the county. Missouri-based Knowink showed their Poll Pad products, which are essentially iPads that voters would use to sign when they show up to vote. According to Knowink, processing voters with Poll Pads takes about 35 to 45 seconds, helping to mitigate long lines with a fast and secure look-up. Poll workers can search for a voter by typing in part of their first and last name, or by address, date of birth, or license number if needed. The use of the electronic poll books would also eliminate the tedious task of poll workers searching through paper poll books and marking off the names of early voters on the Mondays before elections, when early voting sites would no longer be open. All of the Poll Pads would be connected to each other and to a central hub, where the Board of Elections could monitor the voting process, voter turnout, wait times, as well as make sure all of the pads were plugged in and not running low on battery — all in real time. There would also no longer be the need to break out voters into lines based on last name. Since all of the Poll Pads are connected, a voter would not be able to sign in at another poll book at that same location. Poll workers are other poll sites would also be able to see that a voter has already voted at another location. If poll worker allows a person to vote with a provisional ballot at the wrong location, the voter would still be allowed to vote at their correct voting location, but once all of the information is uploaded, it would show that they voted twice and the provisional ballot would be disregarded. The Board of Elections has not decided to use Knowink’s electronic poll books, but they will be invited to bid along with the other interested vendors. How much will early voting prep cost?As far as the cost of preparing the county for early voting, Green said they gave the state Board of Elections an estimate of $350,000, but he said it is still very early in the process to know for sure how much it will cost. Green said that he anticipates the state to include some state aid for the early voting switch in their upcoming budget, but to what degree they still don’t know. The $350,000 estimate is also just for the five early voting locations and doesn’t include any other possible modernization of voting in the county. At the presentation on March 6, Dominion Voting — a company already used in Orange County — demonstrated their new ballot processing machines, which the county is possibly considering upgrading to as well. Knowink Poll Pads are used in 24 states and in 650 jurisdictions, including 225 early voting jurisdictions, but they are not used anywhere in New York as of yet. “We’re waiting for some response from the state, Green said at the demonstration on March 6, because again this is new to everyone — that’s why it’s not in other counties in the state. This is an all new ballgame for New York State. So we’re waiting for the state board to set some procedures, which in the bill, it says the state board needs to establish.”