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Digital Poll Book Failures Slowed Voting in Several States

Technical issues with the electronic poll books used to check voters in forced at least one polling place to abandon the technology for a traditional paper record. The delays also meant extended voting hours at some polls.

by Kartikay Mehrotra and Margaret Newkirk, Bloomberg News / November 4, 2020
A poll worker assists voters, directing them to the correct station in the large warehouse area at the San Diego Registrar of Voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in San Diego, California. Due to the pandemic, voting was taking place at the warehouse. ( TNS

(TNS) —The system voters use across the country to identify themselves at polling places may be yet another reason for delayed results on Election Day, after digital poll books failed at local voting jurisdictions in at least four states.

Voters in parts of Georgia, Ohio and Texas all experienced various levels of system disruption with their ePollbooks provided by the vendor, KnowInk. In Nevada, voters in some Clark County precincts had to wait for their digital poll books to access their voter records before polls could open.

DeKalb County in Georgia, population 760,000 and heavily Democratic, is allowing two polling places to stay open an additional 40 to 45 minutes because of "inability to operate the poll pads as designed, preventing voters from casting their ballots," county Superior Court Judge Courtney L. Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Franklin County, Ohio, ditched their ePollbooks for paper records at 5:30 a.m. after election officials couldn't determine why they were malfunctioning, said Ed Leonard, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, adding that the move to paper could slow tabulation of results in the Columbus region.

Similarly, voters in Upshur County, Texas, extended voting hours through 8 p.m. after their KnowInk ePollbooks yielded "connectivity issues," according to a spokesman at the Texas Secretary of State's office.

KnowInk, based in St. Louis, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Georgia and many states across the U.S. are now utilizing voter check-in electronic poll books supplied by KnowInk, as well as KnowInk scanners to count provisional ballots. Like many states, Georgia uses iPads with proprietary software to verify that voters are eligible to receive a ballot.

Failing ePollbook systems can hamper vote auditing programs that attempt to reconcile the number of votes cast with the number of votes entered, said Harri Hursti, a cybersecurity and election security expert observing elections in Georgia. "They also will slow the ability to count the votes, as many jurisdictions have been handing out provisional ballots, which need to be individually verified."

Hursti said it's too soon to discern between technical snafus and a malicious cyberattack, but that early report from poll workers indicate the need for a broader investigation. In one Georgia precinct, the problem "magically disappeared," he said. In another, the system refused to start. "Only the lights came up, nothing else happened."

Poll book problems happened across Spalding County, which is south of Atlanta. The 61,000-person county voted for Trump in 2016 by 61%. Poll workers checked registrations and did a manual override of the ballot marking devices, which led to long lines. Spalding County extended voting until 9 p.m.

Similar poll book problems led to delays in Morgan County, Georgia, with 19,000 residents, 71% of whom voted for Trump four years ago.

Poll book issues also contributed to an election meltdown in Georgia in June, leading to long wait times to vote. A different part of the system, which allowed poll workers to check voter registrations against a state database provoked even longer waits in the first few days of early voting last month. State officials blamed the problem on inadequate bandwidth on the state system.

Despite the poll book issues Tuesday, waits were generally below five minutes in most parts of Georgia throughout the day, said Walter Jones, an elections spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

©2020 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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