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Electronic pollbooks may trim long lines

Panel recommends purchase of items

By Preston Knight - pknight@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- One of the bigger headaches tied to going to the polls may soon go away.

The long lines that face voters as they wait for their identification and other information to be checked on Election Day can be eliminated through electronic pollbooks, Shenandoah County Registrar Lisa McDonald said Wednesday afternoon. The pollbooks are not vote-counting equipment.

Earlier in the day, the county finance committee, in a 3-1 vote, recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the Electoral Board's request to buy 58 pollbooks and other items, including training, for about $21,000, Assistant County Administrator Mary Beth Price said.

Board Chairman David Ferguson was the dissenting vote. He said Wednesday afternoon that unknown future costs, such as with maintenance and technology support, worried him.

"The concern I have is making decisions without having a full understanding of all the financial ramifications," he said.

But, according to McDonald, electronic pollbooks are expected to be mandated by November 2010 anyway, and with federal funds available now to purchase some for the county, now is the time to act and save money.

"[Help America Vote Act] federal money is being used to offset the costs of the units as an incentive to get all localities using electronic pollbooks by November 2010," she writes in a July 31 memo to County Administrator Vince Poling. "The program will end when either the funds run out or September 2010 arrives, whichever comes first. If we don't act soon, the program may end and we would not be able to participate."

McDonald requested that the county purchase the pollbooks so election officials could have them ready for town elections next May. Through the State Board of Elections electronic pollbook program, refurbished laptop computers with all associated software cables and network devices are offered for $100, Electoral Board Chairman Joe Schad wrote in an April memo to Poling.

The county would have to pay $5,800 for the 58 pollbooks (a minimum of two at each precinct). Otherwise, if the machines had to be purchased directly from a vendor, the cost would be an average of $1,200 each, Schad wrote.

"It's a big savings initially," McDonald said.

The Electoral Board had included more than $27,000 in requests for additional equipment, but the finance committee knocked that down by $12,000 by denying a request for a barcode scanner for each pollbook, Price said.

District 1 Supervisor Dick Neese, the committee chairman, said he voted in favor of the pollbooks because it would give the county a chance to receive refurbished computers and an opportunity to move into the electronic age.

McDonald said localities that have used the electronic pollbooks as a pilot program speak in favor of them.

"Voters can be processed more quickly," she said. "There are no lines based on last name. Any laptop could process any voter."

Supervisors meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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