MENOMONIE, Wis. -- Voters in 12 municipalities in Dunn County will be checked in for the April 4 election by poll workers using new technology that Gov. Evers hopes will become even more prevalent across the state.
The technology is Badger Books, which replaces the traditional paper poll book that voters are familiar with, with an electronic version of that very same poll book. The tablet computer is used to check in voters on Election Day, assign a voter number, process absentee ballots, conduct Election Day registrations, and send voting information to the state after the election is completed.
“The Badger Book serves the same exact purpose as a regular poll book,” said Andrew Mercil, Dunn County Clerk, who is leading the Badger Book transition in the county. “The voter will show up to the polls, they will bring their ID, and election inspectors will look at the ID to verify that that is the person who wants to vote.”
The check-in process is more efficient, Mercil said, because the poll worker can either look up the voter’s name quickly or scan the back of the driver’s license to retrieve the pertinent information for that voter.
The computer will "pull up the information on that voter,” Mercil said, and “the voter can sign in either with their finger or a stylus, be assigned a voting number, and be issued a ballot. So, it's a really efficient, streamlined system.”
After the election results are tabulated, Mercil said, Badger Book makes it easier for election officials to send voter participation information to state election officials.
“What we're able to do with Badger Books is, at the end of the night, the poll book is downloaded onto a secure drive,” Mercil said, and that is uploaded to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
“So, a voter can check myvote.wi.gov and ensure that they can see that their vote was calculated, tabulated and counted in the election in a more efficient manner,” he added.
Mercil said that seven municipalities used a Badger Book for voter check-in for the February primary and that will increase to 12 for the April 4 election. An additional 11 municipalities have expressed an interest in using the technology for the 2024 election cycle, he said.
“This is the way of the future,” Mercil said, “and most people are going to be able to see a Badger Book when they go to their polling locations within the next year.”
Mercil said he and other election officials are aware that the issue of election integrity and security is weighing on some voters’ minds, and the Badger Book technology is perfectly suited to assuage those concerns.
“What the Badger Books allows us to do is help the voters see that their vote was processed and counted in a much more efficient manner,” Mercil said.
In the Dunn County town of Red Cedar, using Badger Books has greatly reduced the check-in time for voters. Using the paper poll books took about 90 seconds to process a voter, said Clerk Cheryl Miller, and the technology reduced that to 15 to 30 seconds.
“Using the Badger Books for the November 2022 election, there were no lines at all throughout the day,” Miller said, an improvement over the November 2020 election, when voters had waits of two hours or more. “Approximately 75 voters were checked in, voted, and out of the polling place in the first 30-40 minutes.”
Miller said every step in the voting process, from check-in to reporting results to the state, is more efficient with Badger Books, adding, “the election can be closed out much, much faster, and there are no mistakes due to human error.”
Mercil said that because the Badger Book technology is never connected to the internet, there’s no danger of it being “hacked” or subjected to any nefarious behavior.
“A hacker is not able to access the Badger Book,” Mercil said. Only certified election clerks have access, and there is a three-step authentication process, including a biometric security, to access the information, he said. “So it's, it's not possible for a person to hack this.”
Gov. Evers has proposed a $400,000 grant program in the 2023-25 state budget to encourage municipalities to purchase Badger Books for their election officials. Mercil said he hopes the measure is approved so that more municipalities can access this important technology. One device costs about $2,500, although Dunn County has obtained some discounts and used some leftover election funds to reduce the costs for local governments that want to obtain a device, he said.
A video further explaining the use of Badger Books in Dunn County is available here.