Get Ready, Wyoming, for 21st Century Voting Technology

Get Ready, Wyoming, for 21st Century Voting Technology

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Paper pollbooks may be a thing of the past if the Wyoming Legislature decides to invest in a new electronic system that could make the jobs of many county clerks and election workers a lot easier.

The cost to the state could be under $10,000 or as much as $188,000, depending on how comprehensive an electronic pollbook (e-pollbook) system Wyoming buys. Deputy Secretary of State Pat Arp told the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivision Interim Committee in Sheridan last week that’s a “ballpark” estimate, since the actual equipment specifications haven’t been determined yet.

The panel voted to have the Legislative Service Office draft a bill establishing an e-pollbook system for its consideration at its next meeting in Lander in September.

Arp said not all counties will want to switch from their tried-and-true paper pollbooks, particularly small ones like Hot Springs County that have only a few precincts. But she said for the state’s most populous areas, like Laramie and Natrona counties, having e-pollbooks available could save both time and money.

Less than $10,000 would buy a very basic system that does less than the state needs it to, Arp said. Because Wyoming allows people to register at the polls on primary and general election days, as well as change addresses and political parties and other information, a system is needed that allows e-pollbooks to exchange much more voter data with “WyoReg,” the state’s voter registration system, than most other states need.

A functional system for Wyoming would cost about $61,000, the deputy secretary said. For one that also allows the e-pollbooks to interface in real time with WyoReg, it could cost between $164,000 and $188,000, but she quickly added, “I wouldn’t bet my life on those numbers.”

State funds would pay to connect the e-pollbooks to the WyoReg system. The counties themselves would be responsible for purchasing the equipment. Laramie County Clerk Deb Lathrop said one vendor estimated her county would need to spend about $48,000 on software and $70,000 on hardware.

The county clerk said she has no doubts about how beneficial the change to e-pollbooks would be for large counties, and noted even some smaller ones are now interested in exploring an electronic system. In addition to taking less time at the polling place to enter data, it would require less time transferring data on the back-end. It would also mean fewer election judges would have to be hired.

“My initial estimate is we’d save about $98,000,” Lathrop said.

Several legislators seemed primarily concerned about security issues. Co-Chairman Sen. Cale Case (R-Riverton) asked Arp if using e-pollbooks would help prevent voter fraud, which has led several states to pass new voter identification laws.

Case didn’t mention it, but these voter ID laws are being used in Republican-led states. Democrats have charged they are designed to blantantly cause fewer minorities, students and seniors to vote, because they may not have the required identification or cannot afford the cost of obtaining the right documents. All three voter categories are more likely to favor Democratic candidates.

A cynic might point out that Wyoming has so few minorities and such an overwhelming registration advantage that the GOP doesn’t need a voter identification system to win here. In fact, a cynic did just point that out.

Judges in both federal and state courts have rejected several voter ID systems, but such schemes keep cropping up in new states every year. At the end of the meeting, Case stressed that Wyoming is not considering any laws that would require people to present additional identification at the polls.

Arp told Case the first thing the state should do is assess the amount of vote fraud that takes place now. Her examples demonstrated that it isn’t much of a problem in Wyoming.

She said she’s been in her job for nearly 20 years and has only seen a couple of isolated incidents of voter fraud. The first was when a Wyoming resident living in Evanston cast an absentee ballot, then moved to Utah and voted there, too.

Arp said a few years ago, four people from Colorado crossed the border to Hanna to vote and were caught through the WyoReg system, and anyone else who tried to cheat the system would suffer the same fate. They were prosecuted.

“If you were a college kid who snuck in and decided to register and vote in two places, you could probably do that on election day,” she noted. “But it’s a felony. How many people are going to commit a felony for one extra vote?”

Particularly when it’s fairly easy for the state’s electronic voter registration system to use available data, including driver’s license and Social Security numbers, to make sure people are who they say they are.

“Its not very likely in this day and age that that type of voter fraud can happen,” Arp said, adding that a basic e-pollbook system would eliminate some instances of such fraud, but “it would take a full-blown package of checking live into the [WyoReg] system to prevent someone from going county to county on election day to register in two places.”

Either way, though, the perpetrator would almost certainly be caught.

“We pay big money to respond quickly — the system responds in nanoseconds,” the deputy secretary said. “We have a piece of software that monitors it 24/7 and makes sure it stays up and responds quickly.”

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) addressed another kind of voter fraud he’s concerned about.

“I think the place where we do get some [fraud] is when … in a number of elections people have misrepresented where they live so they can vote for a friend. I don’t think it’s as common as it used to be,” Scott said. “But when [candidates are] within a half-percent or so, you’re running the risk that there’s enough of that [practice] that it could change the election, particularly with legislative districts.”

“E-pollbooks wouldn’t help or hurt that,” Arp responded.

Lathrop told the committee that for now, the middle-grade system Arp estimated would cost about $61,000 would probably allow the counties “to achieve what we want to do in the immediate future.”

“If the state can’t fund that, I think there are counties that want to do this that would find such efficiencies that they would be willing to bear the cost,” she added.

Counties willing to bail out the state government? Now there’s something you don’t hear about every day. You may never hear it again.

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