Berks officials say electronic poll books ready for countywide rollout

Berks County will roll out new electronic poll books for the upcoming primary election.

Electronic poll books, which are updated in real time on a closed system, resemble a tablet computer. They are loaded with the full list of registered voters for a particular precinct and will replace the paper rosters of registered voters at each precinct on Election Day.

Berks County officials said electronic poll books will allow poll workers to quickly identify a voter’s status. (COURTESY OF BERKS COUNTY)

When voters arrive at the polls, they will provide their name to a poll worker, who can search for them by name or date of birth. Voters can also provide their driver’s license to the poll worker to scan the barcode on the back to immediately access their information. The poll worker will then review the voter’s information and turn the poll book screen around for the voter to sign with either their finger or a stylus. The poll worker will then review the signature with the signature on record for the voter.

Stephanie M. Weaver, public relations officer for the county, said the electronic books allow poll workers to quickly identify a voter’s status. A message will display if the voter needs to verify their identification, is at the wrong polling location, was issued a mail ballot or needs any further assistance. The electronic poll book also provides instructions to poll workers on how to remedy the situation or if they need to continue with a provisional ballot.

And since the electronic pollbooks are loaded with the full list of registered voters for that precinct, there will no longer be separate lines for voters based on the first letter of their last name. All voters can check in at either available poll book at their polling location, which is expected to further reduce lines and wait times.

The county commissioners purchased 440 electronic poll books last year for $1.1 million from Election Systems & Software. The devices have been certified by state election officials, but counties were encouraged to try them on a pilot basis before widespread implementation.

So, the county piloted the books at five voting locations last fall.

Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said the directive from the state benefited the county by allowing more time to find proper storage for the devices and train poll workers on how to use them.

Stacks of pollbooks.  At the Berks County Election Services office in Reading, PA Tuesday afternoon November 16, 2021 where county workers are doing work to finalize the results from the recent election.  (BEN HASTY??
Printed poll books are being replaced by electronic poll books during the primary election May 17 in Berks County. Officials say the printed versions will be available as a last resort. (READING EAGLE)

Weaver said the limited debut went smoothly, so the county is moving forward with its plan for a widespread rollout to all precincts for the primary election May 17. She said every precinct will have at least two electronic poll books on site, except for the New Morgan location, which will have only one because only a handful of voters reside in the borough.

Weaver added that there are 11 additional books that can be delivered to a precinct should a technical issue arise and that representatives from Election Systems & Software will be available to assist any poll worker who might need help.

Since this is the first time the books will be used at all precincts, the election board voted in April to have the printed poll books at each precinct as a last resort. They said they are hopeful this is the final time the county will have to print the books.

Weaver said that in addition to speeding up the voting process the digital books will result in a savings to the county because they require less for workers to review after polls close.

She said the team at election services spends countless hours scanning the printed poll books after each election to send the state information about who voted. With the new machines she said they will be able to easily upload a list of who turned out to the polls that will speed things up and reduce the manual labor needed.

Weaver said training poll workers has been a primary focus leading up to Election Day.

What can electronic poll books do?

• 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.

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