Perry County will be experimenting with new technology during today's consolidated election, and if it works well, the innovation could make its way to polling places across the county by the end of next year.
Perry County Clerk Josh Gross says the precincts voting today at Gardens High-Rise in Pinckneyville will see poll workers using electronic tablets in place of regular poll books in order to check voters' registration and provide them with the correct ballots.
While electronic voting machines are nothing new in Perry County, poll workers have continued to rely on paper records to check voters in at precincts, verify their registrations and ensure they receive the correct ballots. Gross says this new system will allow poll workers to do all of that work electronically, and he says Perry County is the first location in Illinois south of Springfield to make use of the technology.
Perry County is using a system purchased through Governmental Business Systems, and the instruments poll workers are using in the Perry County pilot program are iPads loaded with specialized software.
"These election poll books are starting to become mainstream in larger counties," Gross says.
Gross says the new technology should allow the county to save money by eliminating the need to print registration information for all of the county's voters, only a fraction of whom will actually show up to cast a ballot in any given election.
He also said the technology decreases the need for election judges, which can be difficult to find.
"Every precinct I know of struggles to find enough election judges," Gross says.
Not only do the electronic poll books allow workers to immediately access a voter's registration information, but they also allow the county to immediately know that a voter has cast his or her ballot at a given location. As a result, the network greatly decreases the possibility that a voter could cast a ballot in two separate locations, such as at the courthouse and their regular polling place.
Gross says the technology, which could expand across the county by November 2018, would allow voters to cast their ballots at absolutely any polling location, because the poll books essentially would unite all election locations onto one network.
Gross says that raises legitimate concerns about disenfranchisement, as the county may not need as many polling locations in the future. He also acknowledges that questions may arise about the security of such systems against hacking or other outside interference. He says the system operates on a secure network.
Yvonne Morris of Du Quoin, the elections deputy in the Perry County Clerk's office, says the system so far has worked extremely well.
The new poll book system got its first test last week during early voting at Du Quoin City Hall. Morris said the poll workers were pleased with how the system worked, and 48 voters were able to cast early ballots with no issues.
"It works so well," Morris says. "The three election judges we had (last) Tuesday night were very impressed."