Kent Department of Elections pursues voting machine modernization

 

DOVER — On Thursday morning, the Kent County Department of Elections completed its inspection of all 32 voting machines that will be used in the upcoming Kent County Levy Court special election.

Open to the public, the inspection events rarely draw more than just political party representatives or the candidates involved to ensure that the ballots have all the correct information, said Doris Young, the director of the Kent County department. The Levy Court election for the Second District seat will be held March 21.

During the inspection, each machine is tested and a sampling is taken to ensure that votes are being tallied correctly.

“We manually put votes in the machines and hand count them,” said Ms. Young. “Then we make sure the count on the cartridges matches the manual count. The data is available for people to review if they like.”

According to elections data, the Second District has 21,029 registered voters — 10,045 Democrats, 5,626 Republicans and 5,358 other.

Voting machine inspection is routine ahead of all elections, including special ones. The procedure is in place to ensure that the election department’s hardware is functioning properly and ballot information is correct, said Ms. Young.

In addition to routine inspection, the department recently has been pursuing modernization of voting equipment. Last year, state election commissioner Elaine Manlove requested a task force to review existing equipment (House Bill 342). On Tuesday the resulting task force met for the first time to discuss a strategy.

“Our machines are fine but the software used to create ballots is no longer supported by Microsoft,” said Ms. Manlove. “At some point, they will have to be replaced due to that fact. I wanted to start the process before it became critical.”

One type of improvement being considered is making a transition to electronic poll books. E-poll books depart from the tradition of using paper poll books that contain a list of eligible voters in the given district to an electronic format such as a laptop or tablet.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an NGO, e-poll books can offer the following capabilities:

•Allows poll workers to look up voters from the entire county or state, reducing time spent checking in voters.

•Allows poll workers to easily redirect voters in the wrong location to the correct polling place.

•Scans a driver’s license to pull up a voter’s information, avoiding data entry errors.

•Notifies poll workers if a voter already voted absentee or during the early voting period.

•Allows voters to sign in electronically.

•Produces turnout numbers and lists of who voted.

•Could potentially use a photo to verify a voter’s identity.

“Another possible upgrade could be an end-to-end solution that would take us off the state mainframe,” said Ms. Manlove. “Many agencies are moving into newer technology and off the mainframe.”

Many states, including Delaware, purchased new voting equipment in 2003 and 2004 with HAVA (Help America Vote Act) funds, added Ms. Manlove.

“Our machines at that point were fairly new, so we added headsets for visually impaired and used our funds for technology to improve all of our services like electronic signature between DMV and DOE, online voter registration and etcetera,” she said. “Those same states are now replacing the machines bought with HAVA funds because of technology improvements and/or the need for more of a paper trail.”

No budget or projected costs have been established at this point, said Ms. Manlove because it remains uncertain how far the task force will take the modernization.

The task force is comprised of representatives from the Department of Technology and Information, the Office of Management and Budget, and state legislature accessibility advocates. There is additional oversight on the federal level from the Election Assistance Commission.

Unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voting fraud have recently been in the news in relation to the Nov. 8 general election. As to whether modernization will make Delaware’s voting process more secure, Ms. Manlove said that it’s not vulnerable to begin with.

“What we do now is secure and efficient,” she said. “We will not be any less secure by modernizing, but probably more efficient. Newer technology is always more efficient. Results will not be transmitted from polling places via the Internet, so our security will remain.”

The task force meeting on Tuesday was just the first of many in what Ms. Manlove describes as a “long process.” As the team moves forward, it will meet with representatives of the Election Assistance Commission and voting machine vendors. Once the task force has decided on the best course of action, they’ll issue a request for procurement for review.

Task force members

House Bill 342 established a 12-member task force to head up voting equipment modernization. They are:

Elaine Manlove, state election commissioner

Rep. David Bentz (D)

Rep. Jeffery Spiegelman (R)

Sen. Bryan Townsend (D)

Sen. Anthony Delcollo (R)

Larry Morris, community liaison with the Gov.’s Office

John Pasquale, Board of Elections

James Sterling, Board of Elections

Michael Jackson, director of the Office of Management and Budget

James Collins, chief information office of Department of Technology and Information

Michael Morton, Comptroller General

Laura Waterland, Representative of State Council for Persons with Disabilities

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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