Montgomery, Ala., Streamlines Election Day Check-in with iPads

Voters going to the polls in the city of Montgomery will no longer wait to be manually checked-in by last name, but instead will scan their state ID on a tablet, a process that should take less than 40 seconds.

by Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser / November 6, 2018
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(TNS) Say goodbye to the alphabetized lines.

Montgomery voters will have a new check-in process when they go to the polls for Tuesday’s midterms, one that ditches paper for iPads. That means no more being sorted into lines based on your last name, and no more waiting for poll workers to flip through pages of a printed list to find and mark off your name.

Instead, voters will be sent to the closest available iPad, where they’ll scan the bar code on their Alabama-issued driver’s license or state ID. If a voter has a form of ID that can’t be scanned, a poll worker will type in the name until it appears in a searchable list of registered voters. It doesn’t require an internet connection.

Checking in should take less than 40 seconds and vastly speed up the wait time at the polls, said Darryl Parker, the county’s director of elections.

It’s a process that’s rolling out slowly statewide. Tuesday, it’ll be used by 29 counties, including in Montgomery for the first time.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said there were no issues with the system in last year’s special election, when it was used by 25 counties. “It’s been outstanding,” he said.

Autauga County was one of the first in the state to implement the system and will use it again for this week's midterm elections. Elmore County also plans to use the check-in system this week, as it has for the past few elections.

Merrill said some counties were skeptical that local poll workers would embrace the change, particularly seniors. Those fears turned out to be unfounded, he said. “Our experience has been the opposite,” Merrill said. “Our senior poll workers have been the most interested and the most accepting of the new technology.”

The state hopes to have it in place throughout Alabama by 2022.

Georgia has used a similar electronic check-in process statewide for years.

“It’s certainly not brand new. Other states have worked out some kinks,” said M.V. Hood, a political science professor and elections researcher at the University of Georgia.

Hood said there could be “a few hiccups” at the beginning but that it should make the voting process easier in the long term. “Any process that involves millions of human beings is going to have some problems,” Hood said. “If implemented well, it should go smoothly.”

Montgomery County dealt with a few hiccups related to another rollout during last year’s special election.

Voters fed their ballots into new DS200 scanner and tabulator machines last year. They replaced machines that were decades old and were expected to be more reliable in the long-term. But one broke down at a busy polling place early on voting day, leaving a long line waiting with ballots in hand.

Workers had fixed that problem by 10 a.m.

Other problems included confusion over ballots and misinformation being spread over social media. All of that was amplified by a much larger-than-expected special election crowd eager to cast a vote for Doug Jones or Roy Moore.

Probate Judge Steven Reed said special election turnout hit 44 percent in Montgomery County.

Merrill's office was expecting a turnout of about 35 to 40 percent this week, but that number could go higher. Circuit clerks were reporting increased absentee ballot activity.

Brian Lyman contributed to this report.

©2018 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.