LEBANON, Pa. (WHTM) — When it comes to rushing out new technology, well — for better or worse, and maybe a little of both, let’s just say no one ever confused the Susquehanna Valley with Silicon Valley.
True to form, central Pennsylvania will take an incremental step forward next week when voters at a dozen Lebanon County polling places sign-in on electronic poll books rather than in the familiar paper binders.
The impact on voters? Minimal, said Sean Drasher, the county’s elections director.
“They’ll see a [touch]pad instead of a piece of paper,” Drasher said. “They’re still going to walk up and give their name, and then they’re just going to sign the screen instead of the paper.”
Roughly, in other words, like the first time you signed your name on a screen at a pharmacy when you picked up a prescription rather than on a paper log.
Drasher said it’ll be faster, though, which might not matter much when (in all likelihood) fewer than 30% of the county’s voters turn up at the polls next week — but could help a lot when closer to 90% vote in next year’s presidential election.
The polls on Tuesday will feature two different touchscreen poll systems from two competing companies (KNOWiNK and Election Systems & Software, or ES&S). If all goes well, the county hopes to award a countywide contract to one of the companies.
In terms of what’s going on behind the scenes of the e-poll books, there’s actually — in a sense — less than meets the eye. Less, too, than what happens in other parts of the country.
In the other swing state with 67 counties — Florida — election office registration equipment is networked with equipment at polling places, so the records everywhere update in real-time.
Election administrators generally favor well-integrated systems, because they’re an additional layer of assurance against someone being able to cast two votes — for example, if a mail-in ballot arrives at an election office at the same time the same person shows up at a polling place to vote. (Election offices do have procedures to prevent even that from happening.)
However, some critics worry networked systems can be vulnerable. In any case, they’re not allowed — at least not yet — in Pennsylvania.
“I’m perfectly happy letting other states be pioneers and figure out the technology before it gets to us — and the law around the technology,” Drasher said. “So that’s fine. We’ll get there eventually.”