Electronic Roster Task Force Update

As the state’s new Electronic Roster Task Force has been doing its work, the League has developed a proposed policy on the issue and seeks member comments.
(Published Oct 28, 2013)

Under the 2013 omnibus elections bill (Chapter 131) signed into law by Gov. Dayton in May, Minnetonka, Dilworth, Moorhead, St. Anthony, and St. Paul will be able to participate in an electronic roster pilot project during this fall’s municipal elections. The five cities will have 22 precincts that will use electronic poll books in the municipal elections on Nov. 5, 2013.

The law established a 15-member task force to study electronic rosters, also known as “electronic poll books,” and submit a report summarizing its findings and listing recommendations for the implementation of electronic rosters statewide. The task force elected Secretary of State Mark Ritchie as chair and Minnesota Association of County Officers representative Debbie Erickson as vice chair. The report must be submitted by Jan. 31, 2014, to the chairs and ranking minority members of the House and Senate elections committees.

Electronic poll books are a computer-based alternative to the paper rosters that voters currently sign their name to at polling places on Election Day. A driver’s license or an alternative form of identification can be swiped by a card reader, and pre-loaded information about the voter is displayed on a computer screen. This could include the ability to use photographs provided by the Department of Vehicle Services and the ability to add photographs to the roster on Election Day.

The League checked in with Minnetonka City Clerk David Maeda, who serves as the League representative on the task force, about the work of the task force so far and the LMC Election Task Force’s proposed new policy on cities’ use of electronic rosters.

Q: What have you discussed thus far?
Maeda: The Electronic Roster Task Force has met four times since July. At the first meeting, task force member Professor Max Halperin gave a presentation on the use of electronic rosters in other parts of the country. I gave an overview of Minnetonka’s use of the technology since 2009 for the Election Day registration process. A representative of Cerro Gordo County Iowa, which has developed and used its own electronic roster software, also gave a presentation of its system, which is used by most counties in Iowa.

At the next meeting, the task force viewed presentations from five vendors who sell electronic roster products. Four of the vendors are participating in the November pilot project cities. We also discussed potential costs and security-related concerns.

The third meeting focused on an overview from the Office of the Secretary of State on the statewide voter registration system and its potential use in polling places throughout the state.

The last meeting included a presentation on a nationwide effort that includes the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to conduct facial recognition verification of driver’s license records to identify people with multiple driver’s licenses. The task force is looking at the possibility of adding driver’s license photos to the voter records and having the photos available in the electronic roster.

Q: What can you tell us about the pilot sites that will be using the technology for the upcoming elections? How were they chosen?
Maeda: During the 2013 legislative session, I met several times with a bipartisan group of legislators to draft the legislation that was ultimately passed and signed into law. That group wanted to test the technology in different types of settings. The working group decided to select: a city of the first class (St. Paul); a suburban city (Minnetonka); a smaller city from greater Minnesota (Dilworth); a city with a large student population (Moorhead); and a city that is in multiple counties (St. Anthony). Since the pilot project was established, the five cities have been working together, with the counties, and with the Office of the Secretary of State to coordinate efforts and to ensure multiple vendors are used and evaluated.

Q: You have used electronic rosters in Minnetonka. What are the pros and cons of the technology?
Maeda: Electronic rosters help reduce lines by speeding up processes. Instead of having multiple rosters broken down alphabetically, voters can be directed to the next available election judge because the entire roster can be loaded on multiple devices. Research has shown that the check-in process occurs more quickly as it is easier to search and identify the correct voter record electronically. The Election Day registration process is automated so voters don’t have to spend time filling out an application but rather the form is pre-populated by scanning a driver’s license or state ID card.

The process of closing the polls is also helped because the electronic rosters provide a running total of the number of people who have checked in. So at the end of the night, election judges potentially do not need to count voter receipts or signature lines in the roster. The technology also eliminates common election judge errors like allowing someone to vote in the wrong precinct or a voter signing in on the wrong line.

After an election, the counties would see a great benefit from the use of electronic rosters. All the Election Day data that now has to be manually entered into the statewide voter registration system could be done electronically, for the most part. Not only would this be much more efficient and save costs, but the data would also be more accurate.

The only con I’ve heard about the technology is the concern from election judges with varying comfort levels with computers. So far in Minnetonka, our election judges have caught on quickly to the use of the technology. In fact, if we do not use it in a particular precinct, I hear concerns from the election judges in that precinct because they have gotten used to how the software that helps walk them through the complicated Election Day registration process step by step. The only issue in our city has been setting up the technology at the beginning of the day.

Q: What are challenges cities could face in using electronic rosters?
Maeda: Like voting equipment, electronic rosters require testing and election judge training prior to an election. There are also costs, which vary greatly depending on the vendor and how the system would potentially be financed.

Q: The League’s Elections Task Force has recommended a new policy on the importance of local control for cities in purchasing and utilizing electronic rosters. Do you think that cities across the state will want to utilize this technology?
Maeda: I think a city’s interest in using the technology will depend on its unique circumstances. For smaller cities that don’t have issues with long lines on Election Day, cities that don’t have a lot of Election Day registration activity, or cities whose election judges don’t make mistakes, there may not be much benefit in using the technology. Because of this, I do think the wisest approach is to allow a city to determine whether the technology makes sense for them versus a statewide mandate to use electronic rosters.

To read this policy, see page 70 of the Draft 2014 City Policies (pdf). To submit comments, send an email to policycomments@lmc.org by Nov. 1. All member comments are shared with the League Board of Directors before the Board takes final action on the policies on Nov. 21. The policies will serve as a framework for the League’s advocacy efforts during the 2013 legislative session, which begins Feb. 25, 2014.

The next meeting of the Electronic Roster Task Force is Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. in room 10 of the State Office Building.

Read the current issue of the Cities Bulletin

* By posting you are agreeing to the LMC Comment Policy.