SIOUX CITY | New high-tech equipment will make voting in the June primary and November general elections quicker and easier than ever in Woodbury County.
County Auditor Pat Gill, the chief election official, has spent nearly $7,000 in the past month on equipment to speed the voting process and print extra ballots in a pinch. He said he welcomes the addition of new technologies in a process that is moving well beyond the days of paper and pencils.
"It is to make sure that when people come to the polling place that they vote in an efficient manner," Gill said.
The County Board in April approved Gill's request for spending outside his departmental budget for this year, agreeing the equipment purchases were needed going into the election cycle.
Board member David Tripp, of Sioux City, said he appreciates Gill keeping up with advancements. Technology that aids the voting process should be embraced, Tripp said.
"It is new technology, and it makes it better for voters," he said.
April expenses included $2,143 to lease a ballot-on-demand system for the election office in the Woodbury County Courthouse through the primary. Gill is negotiating to buy the system for about $20,000 after that.
The county uses an outside firm to print 52 different ballots covering various candidates depending upon precinct lines, but predicting how many to print is difficult, Gill said. Sometimes the supply runs low in varying precincts.
Gill recalled when a ballot shortage loomed in 1994 and a printing business executive had to be reached on a golf course to come to the rescue.
With the ballot-on-demand system, the device can pinpoint which ballots are needed for a particular precinct and create them. Election officials still have to deliver them to the site.
Gill has wanted a ballot-on-demand system for five years, and Woodbury County is the first in the state to add that. The Johnson County auditor is mulling such a system.
Electronic poll books will be added for the November general election. The system can access the secretary of state's database to confirm voter registration. That eliminates the need to print reams of paper for precincts to have bound copies containing the names of roughly 56,000 registered voters, Gill noted. Software for the poll books is free from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office.
Gill noted that same-day registration is available in Iowa, but he doesn't want registered voters to have to wait in line to cast ballots while others complete the registration process.
Electronic poll books scan driver's licenses to retrieve voter registration data. Although Iowans do not have to provide a driver's license to vote, Gill said poll workers will politely inquire if a person wants to provide his or her license for scanning to expedite the process.
"A great majority of them don't have a problem showing their driver licenses," Gill said.
Woodbury County used electronic poll book technology for the first time during the 2013 school board elections.
Gill said the system, which used 40 scanners, worked well, so the county paid $4,370 for 18 more scanners in April. The goal is to add 30 more, for a total of 88, to have two scanners available for all voting precincts by November.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said it's good for counties to take advantage of technology where appropriate.
"Electronic poll books and printers help increase the speed and accuracy of the voter experience at the polling place,” Schultz said. “By making the voting process more efficient, hopefully more eligible Iowans will cast a ballot.”