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Will iPads Replace Election Poll Books?

An iPad could replace the multi-page booklet and scan your driver's license to register your vote -- but some still have reservations about where the data will go.

(TNS) -- Tired of flipping through pages and pages of names to sign in at your polling place on Election Day?

There's an app for that.

Hamilton County, Ind., Elections Administrator Kathy Richardson wants the county to switch to an increasingly used electronic poll book system. But several Hamilton County Council members aren't sure they're ready to sign off on the idea.

She is asking the council for about $414,000 to buy 220 iPads, polling software and related equipment. She also would need $30,500 in each of the next two years for software upgrades. If the request is approved, she hopes to have the system in place by May's presidential primary.

Instead of leafing through polling books to find your name in alphabetized order, you would scan your identification card or driver's license into an iPad. The software would check you in and relay that information to the county and state election offices.

Richardson believes electronic poll books would both speed voter check in and make it easier to catalog and audit who has voted. She said it now takes two staffers two weeks to get such voting data into the statewide voter registration system. She said that work could be done electronically in mere minutes with the new system.

She said electronic polling already is used in 28 of 92 counties, including in Boone, Hancock and Johnson counties.

But approval for funding is no guarantee. While Richardson hopes the council will consider the proposal at its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, some council members raised concerns, including whether she should solicit more bids and whether a presidential election year is the right time to try new equipment.

And at least one councilman, Rick McKinney, is worried the information could be used to, well, play politics. He believes well-funded candidates, using the electronic voting records to determine who had yet to vote, could have campaign staff or consultants make get-out-the-vote calls to people identified through earlier surveys as supportive. Essentially, the concern is, they could make "get out and vote for me" calls.

McKinney says that is done now to some extent. But candidates who want to collect that data have to use poll watchers to leaf through pages and pages of poll books at the county's 212 precincts.

He wants to know who will have access to that electronic data. At this point, that is unclear.

McKinney also sees another potential red flag.

He is one of several Republicans who believes Hamilton County GOP party officials provide resources to favored candidates in primary elections, and he worries only preferred candidates would have access to the electronic polling records.

"That's the concern," he said.

Hamilton County Republican Party Executive Director Andrew Greider doesn't believe electronic poll books would provide an advantage to certain candidates over others. He said e-polling simply would make elections run more smoothly, fairly and accurately.

"I don't see how there would be any advantage (to certain candidates)," he said.

Boone County Clerk Jessica Fouts began using electronic poll books from MicroVote and Knowink in fall 2014. She emails the voting reports to any candidates who ask for them. In the primary, she emailed the information four times throughout the day.

"As long as you give access to everyone," she said, "there shouldn't be any complaints."

She said the system has increased efficiency, including quickly identifying when voters are in the wrong precinct and ensuring the correct person is marked as voting when two names are similar. She said the technology also saves the cost of printing thousands of pages of poll books.

The only concern, she said, is ensuring Wi-Fi connections are available. Even without Wi-Fi, the iPads will collect information so people can vote. The information, though, wouldn't be synced with the central system.

"We haven't had any issues," she said.

Councilman Steve Schwartz said he is ready now to vote for the funding and hopes his colleagues come around to the idea, if not Wednesday then later this year. He said voting for the funding is an easy decision that will improve efficiency.

"Hamilton County is not the first to do this in the state, and I'm sure there will be more to come," he said.

©2015 The Indianapolis Star Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.