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Voters to see high-tech changes at upcoming elections

Election judges have been getting training on these new poll pads, which are new devices designed to streamline the voter registration process. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Most voters heading out to voting sites in Wadena County Aug. 14 will see some technological changes in the way they vote.

Wadena County commissioners approved earlier in the year buying new voting machines and poll pads in an effort to keep up with an ever changing election process. The devices, according to Wadena County auditor/treasurer Judy Taves, might not speed up the registration process much, but it has its benefits, including better privacy and less dependence on reading handwriting.

"We think it will flow better," Taves said. Because all the county is on all poll pads, any precinct can register on any poll pad.

These poll pads are basically electronic replacements for the paper rosters voters sign. They will not be operated by voters, rather the registration judges will be operating them, using information from the voter. So no need to worry about not knowing how to operate them. The devices include a scanner that reads a driver's license and inputs the information into the system automatically. The license scan is not required of voters, it's just an option, Taves said.

And if a voter is not eligible to vote, such as someone on parole, probation or not a resident or of age, the judge gets a notification on the poll pad that the voter is challenged. If the voter contests it, more investigating can be done to determine if the voter can be a part of the democratic process.

For regular voters, it's going to look like the usual process. You still fill out a paper ballot and place it in the voting machine.

"It's going to look the same when you put your ballot in," Taves said.

It's the biggest change for registration judges, who have to operate the new technology. There were some frustrations over the equipment by registration judges who ran into some errors, but they seemed to handle it well during training. New election coordinator Joy Weyer said as long as the new technology works, it's going to go well.

"I'm confident the bugs will get worked out," Weyer said. "As long as they get worked out it will be efficient and it will be helpful, less errors will be made."

While it may seem like you are signing something you've never had to sign before, Taves said voters always had to sign an oath, it's just signing in a different format now.

Taves said putting these devices in use now will be important for three elections coming in 2020.

Of course, this is new technology to the county, so it might not be flawless. But Taves and election coordinator Joy Weyer are working with registration judges to make sure they are confident in using the new devices. They hosted four trainings and two more opportunities where judges came in to practice, making sure they can breeze through the registration process. Judges go through a number of scenarios to know what to do come election day.

And if the devices fail—there's always the old pen and paper, which is still an option that will be used if the pads malfunction or if there is a line waiting for the pads.

"It's the way of the future," Taves said. "Electronics is the way to go and Minnesota has always been a leader."

If all goes well with the new equipment, Taves believes the results of the election should be available much earlier than in the past. While the individual results from the different sites must still be brought to the county courthouse for tabulation they don't have to be typed in, it's just as easy as inserting a stick drive. Taves thinks judges will be out at 11 p.m. compared to 3 or 4 a.m. like in 2016.

"People today will not wait for results," Taves said. "CNN says at 8:01 who won a race, people in Wadena County want to know too. This is going to greatly speed the results, if you just have to push the stick drive in and push go."

The county commission approved the purchase of 12 DS200s and Election Ware software for the devices at a cost of $43,389 to the county. A $30,000 grant offsets the total cost of $64,770 for the equipment. The DS200s are digital scanning voting machines that use optical scanners designed to ensure "even the most poorly marked ballots are read accurately and consistently" according to the company website.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of 15 poll pads to be used throughout the county.

Taves noted a reason for moving ahead with poll pads was to comply with a rule that others registering should not be able to see who else is on or not on the list. The electronic poll pads work in a way that you only see your information not others. While the pads can be connected to the internet, commissioners did not vote to go ahead with connecting these devices at this time as Wadena County IT director Curtis Kreklau said there was poor connectivity at some of the precincts.

The 15 poll pads cost the county about $7,000 after Staples purchased one and a $10,911.32 grant was used. Fifteen pads is not enough for all locations, but it covers those with significant voter numbers.

County commissioner Jim Hofer noted that one election judge was concerned about Staples only having one poll pad. Taves said the original plan did not include the city of Staples getting a poll pad, but Staples decided they would buy one if they could go through the training with the county. Taves said the rule of thumb was one poll pad for those sites with under 500 voters. Staples residents in Wadena County includes about 400 voters, while Thomastown Township near Staples has about 500 voters.

INFO BOX

Poll pad sites

Those heading to the following sites will see one or more of these hi-viz cubes that houses the poll pads.

City of Wadena — 4

City of Sebeka, Red Eye Township, North Germany Township — 2

City of Menahga - 2

Blueberry Township — 1

Thomastown Township — 1

City of Staples — 1

Wadena Township, Leaf River Township — 2

City of Verndale — 1

Aldrich Township — 1

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