July 27, 2011 By Brian Heaton
Organizing the logistics and operations of an election could be a little easier in the future for Anoka County, Minn., if a trial run of a new election management software program goes as planned this November.
The county is piloting a new Web-based application called MODUS Election Manager by InTech Software Solutions Inc., which helps manage equipment, assists with polling place details, tracks the work history of election judges and keeps tabs on supplies and materials used in elections.
Anoka County installed the software a few weeks ago and will be testing it in a small number of local 2011 elections. In January 2012, the system will be fully rolled out to all 21 cities in the county.
Cindy Reichert, Anoka County’s elections manager, said municipalities in the county currently operate using their own individual set of spreadsheets and processes for elections. The new system — which was designed according to specifications put together by a group of election officials in the county and various cities — is aimed at improving efficiency and getting every government standardized and on the same page during election cycles.
“There are a number of different functions ... but the beauty of it is that we’re all in the same database,” Reichert said, referring to the new election management software. “If someone calls my office on Election Day and needs to know something about a polling place, I can open up that database and have all the same information a city clerk would have if they had called her.”
In addition, having every city on a shared election software platform is something Reichert felt made sense for day-to-day operations. The new system should quicken the learning curve for new election officials and theoretically increase productivity.
“If one of our city clerks retires, she has many more people that can help the new person with managing the single system we now use, instead of learning a whole set of individualized things from scratch,” Reichert said.
What the new election software doesn’t do, however, is keep track of votes and information on voters. While that might seem a curious move to some, considering one of the county’s goals was to be more efficient, Reichert revealed it was very much by design.
She said when the county was looking into election software, it came across vendors with programs that had voter information as a basis, with the operational and logistical functions as separate add-ons. But Minnesota already has an election reporting and statewide voter registration system that is handled through the secretary of state’s office, so those options didn’t make sense.
“We all have access to that, so there was no purpose in purchasing something that had those components in it,” Reichert said.
The agreement with InTech Software Solutions is a two-year subscription that Reichert said is costing Anoka County approximately $31,500 for 2011 and $67,000 for 2012. While she said the vendor establishes prices based on population, the county received a 50 percent discount for 2011 in exchange for being the beta test site for the company’s software.
Reichert added that the county tried to come up with a concrete dollar number that would be saved by using the software, but due to a variety of factors, couldn’t do so. She said that during their attempt to identify savings, city clerks revealed they really didn’t keep track of the actual time it took to recruit election judges and run an election, as it was just one part of their overall scope of duties.
But Reichert was confident that there would be across-the-board monetary savings by going to the election management software. Tasks that normally would have been done manually such as writing letters and sending notifications will now be automated and the software will also help overcome personnel shortfalls.
“We have had a lot of staffing cuts, especially in our cities,” Reichert said. “We lost a full-time position in our office. So we really need to rely heavily on technology to do work rather than the people, which are much more expensive.”
You may use or reference this story with attribution and a link to