Washington County purchasing electronic poll books

January 31, 2013
Washington County elections director Larry Spahr looks at a flier for an electronic poll book. - Barbara Miller / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

In its first expenditure from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee, Washington County commissioners will be spending more than $225,000 on electronic poll books.

“It’s like an iPad,” elections director Larry Spahr said of the poll books to be purchased from Electronic Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb.

A poll book, prepared for each of Washington County’s 184 voting precincts, is the voluminous list of registered voters, their addresses, their party affiliation or independent-of-party status and dates of birth, if available.

Although 200 electronic poll books should be arriving next month, Spahr emphasized that they won’t be used for the May 21 primary.

The county will schedule training sessions for the summer, well in advance of the Nov. 5 election.

Spending a total of $385,593 on poll books will mean the county will no longer have to print 40,000 pages listing information for the approximately 142,000 registered voters.

Spahr received permission from the Pennsylvania Department of State to use $159,646 in federal tax dollars from the Help America Vote Act. The money was left over from the county’s purchase of touch-screen voting machines several years ago.

The remainder of the electronic poll book purchase price, $225,947, will come from the impact fee created by Act 13.

One of the features of the electronic poll books comes into play if a voter appears at the wrong precinct.

Poll books will contain information from the countywide voter registration database, so a member of the local election board, finding the person not listed, can direct the person to the correct precinct, provided he or she is actually registered as a Washington County voter.

Spahr said a county in Georgia has found that Election Day calls from local election boards to the voter registration office decreased by 90 percent through use of the electronic books.

“We get inundated with calls, especially in presidential elections,” Spahr said Thursday. “We have five phone lines in this office, and they ring incessantly.”

Another time-saver for the elections office is expected to be transfer of bar-coded identification numbers to the statewide voter database to show that someone has voted, keeping his or her voter registration current.

That task took two elections office workers three to four weeks to complete after the Nov. 4 election. Information from electronic poll books should be uploaded in two hours, Spahr said.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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