New Technology for Tech Bond Election

Electronic pollbooks don't replace paper ballots

On Tuesday, May 8, Ann Arbor voters will be asked to approve a bond to support investments in technology for Ann Arbor Public Schools. And it turns out that new technology will play a part in the Ann Arbor city clerk’s implementation of the election.

Driver's license can be swiped for automatic lookup in the electronic pollbooks that will be deployed at eight precincts for the May 8 election. The voting process itself will take place using the usual paper ballots.

A driver's license can be swiped for automatic lookup in the electronic pollbooks that will be deployed at eight precincts for the May 8 election. The voting process itself will take place using the usual paper ballots.

In eight of the city’s 37 precincts, election workers will deploy electronic pollbooks (EPBs) – information downloaded onto laptop computers (the night before the election) from the state’s qualified voter file. (The count of 37 precincts arises from the combination of several of the city’s usual 48 precincts for this local election.)

The laptops are supplied to the city of Ann Arbor by the state of Michigan through the Help America Vote Act. Michigan’s secretary of state’s office told The Chronicle in a phone interview that of Michigan’s roughly 1,500 different municipalities across Michigan about 800 will use EPBs in the May election, and more than 1,000 will use them in the August primaries. In 2009 40 different municipalities had tested the system.

Ann Arbor is piloting the EPBs in eight precincts this spring, with an eye toward expanding citywide by the November 2012 presidential election. Voters in the eight precincts won’t need to do anything different to prepare to vote. The voting itself won’t take place electronically. Voters will still fill in ovals on paper ballots. EPBs are simply for pollworkers to check in voters and perform record-keeping tasks at the precinct through voting day.

The eight precincts where EPBs will be deployed on May 8 are 1-8 (Skyline High School), 1-10 (Arrowwood), 2-5 (Ann Arbor Assembly of God), 2-7 (King Elementary School), 4-4 and 4-8 combined (Pioneer High School), 5-3 (Second Baptist Church), 5-6 (Eberwhite School), and 5-11 (Forsythe Middle School).

Voters will have mostly the same experience voting that they’ve always had. For example, they’ll still need to bring a photo ID. If that ID is in the form of a Michigan driver’s license, a voter might enjoy an incrementally faster check-in time at the polls. That’s because election workers will be able to scan a driver’s license for automatic lookup in the EPB.

The city clerk trained election inspectors in the use of EPBs at three sessions last week. The Chronicle attended the Thursday, April 26 session.


City clerk Jackie Beaudry led the training, with Howard Scheps assisting. Scheps then began by asking that everyone turn off all electronic devices.

Beaudry told election inspectors that their precinct was one of eight that will use electronic pollbooks (EPBs) in the upcoming May 8 election. By the Nov. 6, 2012 election, the entire city will have switched to the electronic system, she said.

The EPB is an electronic version of a paper pollbook. Armed with a laptop and special software, poll workers no longer record by hand each ballot they issue.

On software designed for elections, three specific duties are completed electronically:

  1. List of voters: Poll workers have access to a list of voters in their precinct, along with a list of all registered voters of the city of Ann Arbor. (The list does not include surrounding townships or cities such as Saline.)
  2. Remarks section: This section, to which a few blank pages are usually devoted at the end of the paper pollbook, is a place for poll workers to note any special cases or difficulties for the Board of Canvassers.
  3. Statement of votes and ballot summary: The software includes a program that automatically generates a summary of how many ballots have been issued and to whom they have been issued.

A few items have remained in their paper form. For example, poll workers still receive a cover page that describes the election, jurisdiction, and their precinct. They also receive in paper form an equipment certificate and their oath of office. And a voter who’s ability to participate in the election is challenged – for residency requirements, for example – must still sign by hand a document attesting that they’re eligible to vote.

Once the polls have closed, election workers will print their final list of voters, remarks section, statement of votes and ballot summary at the clerk’s office.

Screen shot of electronic pollbook screen. The electronic pollbooks will help election workers with voter lookup and record keeping on Election Day. But voting will still take place with paper ballots.

Screen shot of electronic pollbook. The electronic pollbooks will help election workers with voter lookup and record keeping on election day. But voting will still take place with paper ballots.

Along with record-keeping during the voting process, the EPB also allows poll workers to swipe a driver’s license or other form of ID as a quicker way to find voter information. By swiping a card — as opposed to typing in a voter’s name — poll workers may save time. Beaudry allowed, however, that the feature may not actually be of much use in the predominantly student precincts, because student IDs aren’t recognized by the scanners.

Beaudry then reviewed the anticipated work flow on election day. First, a voter completes an Application to Vote and presents a form of picture ID. Then Inspector #1 verifies that the application matches the information on the ID. Inspector #2 verifies that the voter’s information provided on the Application to Vote is the same as what is in the EPB, and uses the EPB to produce the correct ballot number for Inspector #1 to issue.

What will be the same for poll workers? The morning of elections, they will still take the oath of office (on paper). At night all workers must sign a “Present at the Close of Polls” document, and two inspectors must sign while sealing the final ballot bag.

What will be different? Inspectors must begin the day by setting up their designated city-issued laptops. They are also required to save and back-up all information throughout the day (at least every 20 to 30 minutes).

The files and software are housed in a password-protected flash drive, which workers will keep in the laptop throughout the day. At the end of the day, workers must complete the electronic ballot summary and save it to the flash drive.

Workers are required to pick up their laptops the night before elections and return them to city hall after polls close.

Software Specifics

At that point, Beaudry began a demonstration of the software. Using a sample flash drive loaded onto her laptop, she opened the software.

The software that poll workers will use is password-protected. Poll workers are also prohibited from using the EPB laptops to connect to the Internet or any kind of wireless connection throughout the day. Beaudry cautioned that any use of the laptops to connect to the Internet would violate the city’s agreement with the state to use the electronic system – and on that basis the city’s funding from the state for the hardware could be revoked.

Beaudry also added that the software, because it is not associated with any Internet connection, is not really “interactive.” The list of voters is downloaded to the laptops from the state’s qualified voter file (QVF) the night before election day. No updates can occur throughout the day.


Screenshot excerpt from the center Voter Detail Screen. (Image links to larger file.)

When poll workers have successfully logged into the ballot-counting program, they must first check for the correct election and precinct — detailed at the top of the screen. The screen itself is divided vertically into thirds from left to right: Voter Search, Voter Details, List of Voters.

Voter Search is a way to look up voters. Searching or scanning an ID will generate a set of search results. Clicking on the name from the search result causes the voter’s name and address to appear in the Voter Details section in the middle third of the screen.

Along with each voter’s name and information, the search screen also indicates any special circumstances or details associated with that voter – with a question mark. A question mark may mean that the election worker needs to confirm the voter’s address; it may also signal that the voter has already registered by absentee ballot (in which case the worker must call the clerk’s office to clarify).

To execute any procedure with a voter selected from Voter Search — to issue a ballot, for example — poll workers click on “Lock this voter record” and, from a menu of choices, choose the desired procedure, like “Issue a ballot.”

The List of Voters, in the far right third of the screen, is a running tally of voters, used to summarize how many people have voted and how many ballots have been issued. This feature is similar to the running list that a poll worker would usually write by hand, and is simply a record of votes that day. It can’t be manually altered.

With the basics done, the rest of the demonstration was devoted to all the special cases — how to issue an envelope ballot, a challenged ballot, and how to reject or spoil a ballot. A spoiled ballot situation can arise, for example, if a voter realizes they filled in an oval incorrectly.

For example, to “spoil” such a ballot, the poll worker must find the voter again in Voter Search, click “Lock this voter” and click the command “Spoil this ballot.” From there, the worker can issue another regular ballot. Because the program automatically notes any special actions, there’s no need to write any special note to the Board of Canvassers.

If a poll worker accidentally chooses the wrong name in Voter Search (Jane Smith instead of John, for example) and issues the wrong ballot, there is also an “undo” button. At that point workers would be encouraged to write a remark detailing why they undid a specific action.

If a voter shows up who is registered in Ann Arbor but not at that precinct, a poll worker is supposed to urge the voter to go to the correct precinct. If the voter refuses, the worker can issue that an “envelope ballot” and enter the voter’s information into the system at that time. [Envelope ballots are reviewed by the city clerk after the election to determine if they should be allowed to count. If the person voted in the wrong precinct, then the ballot doesn't count.]

Other possible alternatives to a regular ballot include a “challenged ballot.” If a voter’s right to vote has been questioned by a poll challenger — say because they’re suspected of not meeting residency requirements — then workers must issue a “challenged ballot.” The EPB process is the same as for issuing a regular ballot, with the exception that a poll worker selects “challenged ballot” from the menu. The automatically-generated voter summary will indicate that the vote was challenged.

At the training session, Howard Scheps of the city clerk’s office also described what he called an “esoteric situation” – “rejecting” a ballot. This would occur if, for example, a voter walked around the polling place shouting who he was voting for, clearly telling everyone else to follow his choices. While Scheps says he has never seen it happen, rejecting a ballot is another easy choice under the menu of “Lock this voter record.” Workers are required to note why the ballot was rejected in the Remarks section.

At the close of the polls, a poll worker must enter the number of ballots voted that day – from the  voting machine tabulator, which automatically keeps track of the number of ballots inserted.

Most importantly, poll workers must make sure to save all updated versions of the ballot summary, remarks section, and running tally of voters. At that point, they must save everything to the flash drive and return the technology to city hall.

Election Day May 8, 2012

For a list of all candidates and ballot proposals anywhere in Washtenaw County on May 8, see the Washtenaw County clerk’s election website. To find a polling place in Ann Arbor, visit the Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County mapping service [requires Microsoft Silverlight].

Or to look yourself up to find where you’re registered to vote anywhere in Michigan and to view a sample ballot, visit the Michigan secretary of state’s website.

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  1. May 2, 2012 at 10:55 am | permalink

    Requiring voters to present ID, and requiring poll workers to use this new electronic system, will greatly reduce usability, discourage voting, and cost money. So I have to wonder what we’re getting in return. Was there a big problem with ballot stuffing in previous years that this is intended to fix?

  2. May 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm | permalink

    A couple of comments in the moderation queue prompt this quick reminder on commenting. It’s fine to pick some screen name that is not your actual name. But we do ask that you pick one and stick to it. For more detail on this: [link]. As examples of folks with screen names not identical to their actual names, who’ve navigated the comments section successfully over the years, I’d offer abc and John Q.

    When a screen name varies from the one previously used by the same person, the comment gets automatically flagged and sent to the moderation queue. Typically, I’ll simply shoot the commenter an email and say something like, “Hey, c’mon …” But if no valid email address is supplied I can’t do that.

    Choosing a screen name that itself expresses a specific point of view on a particular topic doesn’t typically mesh well with the idea of picking a name and sticking to it. What if you’ve chosen the screen name, “No Conference Center on the Library Lot!” and all you want to do is let people know the scientific name of a bug someone photographed for a Stopped.Watched. item?

    Anyway, I don’t mean this as an occasion to open the general topic of screen names verses real names.

    Rather than waiting for a resubmitted comment under a previously adopted screen name, here’s the basic information that a commenter would like us to look at – a list of names and dollar amounts: [.pdf of the campaign contributions to the millage campaign from the county clerk's website]

    All those names in the list are actual names of actual people – no screen names allowed on those campaign finance forms!

  3. By A2person
    May 2, 2012 at 9:41 pm | permalink

    Wonderful. I love looking through those names, and I am so pleased to see neighbors, community members, PTOs, school board members (who get paid next to nothing for enormous amounts of work), and even Dr. Green giving generously of their own money to help get the word out to support our severely underfunded schools.

    Thank you to all of those helping financially. I look forward to casting my vote on Tuesday, so I can do my little part to push back even slightly against the mess that Lansing continues to hand us.

  4. May 3, 2012 at 7:53 am | permalink

    Interesting that the question of reader identity should come up in an article about voter identity.