By Barbara Lyon, Citizen Journalist
After hearing conflicting views from several city poll workers and chief inspectors, the Menomonie City Council gave a unanimous thumbs up to replacing the current pen-and-paper poll books with a more efficient electronic version.
In 2017, the use of Badger Books (electronic poll books) was approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). It is anticipated that the state will require their use within the next few years. The Dunn County Clerk’s office recently secured a group discount and has offered to pay for half of all Badger Books purchases for polling stations throughout Dunn County. The city’s tab will total $13,088.82 for its eight polling locations, many of which experienced long lines during the Fall 2022 general elections.
Not only will Badger Books e-poll books streamline the check-in process, it will also significantly decrease the time – often weeks long – it takes to reconcile the results following an election. In addition to serving as an electronic poll book, Badger Books also provides a digital voter registration form and verifies absentee ballots before they are fed into voting machines after polls close.
The Town of Red Cedar was the first municipality in Dunn County to use Badger Books. According to Town Clerk Cheryl Miller, “We did not want another election where voters had to wait in line for two or more hours, which is what occurred at the November 2020 General Election. … Using the electronic poll books at the November 2022 General Election where we had 1,200 voters, the check-in process took 15-30 seconds per person, rather than 1.5 minutes.”
Although several expressed skepticism beforehand, Miller said, “Every poll worker loved the speed, ease and efficiency of the electronic poll books, were excited to use them, and had a great, positive and effortless experience on election day, as did the voters.”
Before Election Day, a municipality’s poll book – each voter’s name, address and registration number – will be loaded onto the electronic poll book, City Clerk Kate Martin said. She attended Badger Books training several weeks ago.
“A voter’s ID, usually a driver’s license, is scanned, which determines whether their name is on the book and makes sure that they’re at the proper polling location,” Martin told the council, noting that the voter is redirected if needed.
“Instead of filling out a paper form for same-day registration, after the voter’s ID is scanned, it will populate their information into the form and they’re able to sign on the screen with their finger or a stylus,” Martin continued. “And really key at the end of the day … [is] processing the absentee ballots [which] all have an individual bar code for that voter.”
Under the old format, an often time-consuming hand count needed to be made of the absentee ballots before they’re run through the voting machine. “Sometimes the numbers are a little off, so you have to recount,” Martin said. “[Badger Books] will scan each of the absentee ballots in and verify that the number of voters matches the number of absentee ballots that have gone out already. This can be done in a matter of mere minutes at the end of the night.”
Among the concerns raised by some of the poll workers who attended the Feb. 6 council meeting revolved around data security and the possibility of the system being hacked. Martin explained that while the machines “talk” to each other via a wireless router within each polling place, they are not connected to the Internet. According to Badger Books’ brochure, “Like a paper poll book, only the data necessary to run an election is included, so no Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is accessible.”
For increased security, each election official has their own unique set of login credentials for the application. All of the information recorded on Badger Books is captured on a USB drive which the municipal clerk uses multi-factor authentication to upload the encrypted election file into WisVote. According to WEC’s Erin Hoag, the USB file is only readable by WisVote and Badger Book software.
“Before we had to do it by hand which takes weeks. This resolves the problems of human error,” Martin said about the upload process. “It doesn’t tabulate votes; it’s everything that happens before you actually cast your ballot. The results of the poll book are tallied with the number of votes cast … no more little paper numbers which can cause huge problems!”
Although the system has a back-up battery, “We’re still required to print a poll book in case power were to go down. It’s been proven to work in lots of municipalities,” Martin concluded. “Lots of happy voters, lot of happy poll workers.”
Barbara Lyon, editor of The Dunn County News until 2018, currently serves the area community as a citizen journalist.