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Electronic poll books being deployed in many locations as early voting begins

Ellen Abbott
Electronic poll books will replace the ledgers voters use to sign in their polling place in Onondaga County and at other locations around New York

Early voting begins on October 26 in New York, but that isn’t the only new experience greeting voters this election season. In many counties across New York State, electronic poll books will be replacing the huge books voters have used for years to sign in to vote. 

Dozens of iPads, along with bright green cases are heading out to all the polling places in Onondaga County during early voting and on Election Day this year. Instead of bulky paper books, voters will sign their name on the device, and a nearby machine will print out a receipt that includes a valid ID. Voters take that to a printer, scan it, and a ballot slides out.

Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said techwise, the system is secure.

"All of our poll pads are on their own their own individual cellular-connected networks, so we can keep anyone from hacking them," said Czarny. "They are all encrypted communications through Verizon. We could, if we need to, deploy mobile hotspots and get on the wifi of the polling places themselves in an emergency."

Czarny said an off-year election is actually a good time to roll out a system that replaces the huge paper ledgers of the past.

"We get a dry run in this year in a low turnout election, then a presidential election, which 2020 could be the mother of all elections," he said. "So we don’t want to be putting something in the field that hasn’t been tested. So we have this election, the two primary elections next year, and we’ll really be able to get the kinks out before the big general election next year."

Czarny emphasizes that these electronic poll books don’t have anything to do with the actual vote, but offer a quicker way for voters to sign in. They also can show if a voter isn’t registered or is at the wrong polling place. And on the back end, Czarny said it will save thousands of dollars verifying elections.

These poll books will be used for the nine days of early voting that starts October 26, as well as on Election Day November 5.