Monday, December 3, 2012

iPads at the Polls, an Update

You might remember that we deployed iPads at our polling places as an electronic election worker resource guide.

Among the many things we will be sorting out following last month's presidential election is the effectiveness of these and the potential further uses.

The eventual goal is to consider using the iPad, or some other tablet, as an electronic poll book, saving printing costs and time.  The practicality of such a thing is complex at best.

First, we would need at least two and maybe three at each polling place. They would need to constantly talk with each other so that if one malfunctions, is dropped, or lost, we would still have a way to continue signing people in and can capture voter history.

(Voter history, by the way, is simply a record of who voted.  Right now, we have to manually go through each of our 250+ poll books and, page by page, scan the barcode next to signatures after each election.  The iPads would allow us to upload the history automatically).

There were savings and efficiencies with the iPads during this election, primarily because we were able to avoid printing election worker manuals, large countywide maps, and street index listings. These maps and listings are tools to help the workers get voters to the correct polling place.

More than half of our supervising judges gave the iPads glowing reviews.  Others hated them.  In one polling place I visited in November, at 9 a.m., it hadn't yet been taken out of the bag.  (In fairness, this was an extremely busy site that might as well have had a revolving door at the front of the gymnasium based on the traffic I saw coming and going while I was there).

Just this past week, I received three calls from technology stakeholders, including Apple and two electronic poll book providers.  Another sent me his tablet prototype announcement a couple of weeks ago.

We also submitted the resource guide as an entry in Harvard Kennedy's School's Innovations in American Government Awards and made it past the first evaluation gate.  We're not sure if we're still in the mix there, and I hope to follow up on that with the leader of that program next week when I'm at elections conference in Washington.

The award has a financial piece to it, which would let us expand our iPad use as poll books.  How we would do that is still a question, although we have at least four viable partner opportunities, and we'd like to consider building our own software with the Secretary of State's office.

Managing and storing a fleet of iPads is no small thing.  They can be updated universally, but that assumes we have the networking capability for that and that's been a big assumption.  We already had to make room for additional voting machines and our warehouse is crammed as it is.

Then there's the matter of election worker engagement.  I don't think the iPad adoption that we've seen can be stereotypically linked to the age of a traditional election worker.  For some, it's their thing and for others, it's not.

Still, if we use them as electronic poll books, they must be used, and that brings into question how hard we want to push and train something that, in the end, is simply a place where the voter signs. The printing savings in indisputable, as is avoiding the after-election scanning, but the poll books add to training that already has become exhausting.

Add to this the uneven feedback by those who use electronic poll books and we're left with a lot to ponder.  This has been expeditionary learning thus far, creating more questions than answers.  Like every other equipment issue election administrators are facing, though, there probably isn't one right answer, and that's what we're beginning to see here.


Martin White said...

Android is the clear answer for a tablet based electronic poll book. IPads have no micro SD card slot. If a unit fails (bricks) you lose all of you voter history. Sure, you can back up via bluetooth to another unit or use Airstash ($150 each) that ony has a 5 hour battery and constantly needs firmware updates. Android's Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean OS is more flexable,stable, and provides continuous back up of voter history to a micro SD. The micro SD backup could be a lifesaver during a highly contested election.

Election Diary said...

Martin, I get that. We've tested Airstash and I don't think it makes the iPads a more viable solution. iPads are more standardized than Android, but we've looked at Android possibilities, too. I know we'll be talking with your company again relatively soon as well. I think the Surface has SD backup, but that brings other issues.

Martin White said...

I really like Windows 8 RT but its such a new OS that I'm afraid it might turn out to be another Windows Vista. Its still too soon to tell. The Surface only has a 1MP camera so scanning will be impossible. I look forward to speaking to you about it. As always, love your blog!