About 20 percent of Lebanon County voters will participate in an e-poll book trial run during municipal elections this fall.

On Thursday, Sept. 7, the county’s election board unanimously approved for Election Systems and Software (ES&S) and KNOWiNK to provide their e-poll book systems for trial runs at select Lebanon County voting precincts during the municipal election on Nov. 7.

Sean Drasher, director of Lebanon County’s Bureau of Registration and Elections, told LebTown after the meeting that while the precincts haven’t been finalized, he has a good idea of which ones will participate.

“The goal is for line reduction at the most active precincts,” said Drasher. “The trial run will also include the precincts where the county commissioners live because I want them to have their eyes on it to see how it works.”

Drasher said the trials will come at no cost to the county, with both vendors agreeing to front all equipment, service and training costs.  

“Training will be incorporated into our training session for poll workers prior to the election,” Drasher said after the meeting. “But the training only takes a few minutes, it’s that easy.”

The decision to conduct a test this fall and potentially purchase a system next year for all Lebanon County precincts is multi-faceted. Thursday’s vote follows a July 26 meeting where the two vendors demonstrated the digital machinery to the election board and county commissioners. 

Read More: Is digital voter registry coming to Lebanon County?

“Counties that have rolled out these e-poll books have seen lines drop substantially at polling places on Election Day,” said Drasher during the meeting. “That’s something I want to see with my own eyes, but that has been constant feedback we’ve gotten from all the other (Pennsylvania) counties.”

Drasher also told the elections board the system would reduce the workload of election officials – especially next year when turnout for the presidential election is expected to increase by 300 to 350 percent. Drasher said he expects about 30,000 voters for the fall election and close to 90,000 next year.

“With e-poll books, with a few clicks, after the election is over, we can update our records (instantly),” said Drasher. “Right now, with paper poll books, it can take up to a month to update our records and it is a lot of people doing a lot of hand transactions over 91,000 registered voters. This is going to cut down on human error and speed up the process on the back-end, dramatically.”

E-poll books contain registered voters’ names, addresses, and birth dates. When a voter arrives to vote, a poll worker is able to review that information and have the voter sign it similar to a paper poll book. (Drasher added that he plans to keep paper poll books as a backup for next year’s election for “everyone’s peace of mind” if the county moves forward with them.)

County administrator Jamie Wolgemuth requested the percentage of precincts that would participate in the trial, with Drasher replying that each vendor would get about 10 percent each if the elections board decided to permit both vendors to participate in the trial run.

“I pre-selected some precincts just doing a quick scan using demographics and a voter count with a good, broad snapshot of the county, where we are taking precincts spread out evenly around the county,” said Drasher. 

Temporary elections board chairman Jon Arnold asked if the e-poll information is public record.

Drasher responded affirmatively, adding that the data does not contain a voter’s social security or driver’s license number nor any other personal information deemed to be confidential.

Local resident Bonnie Kanter objected to the use of e-poll books, noting that the trial is being approved by an interim election board. Normally, the three county commissioners are members of the county election board, but state law prohibits them from serving as election board officials during an election year.  

Elections board member Stephanie Axarlis stated that the decision to purchase the e-poll book will not occur with this board.

“To address the concern that was raised … the actual decision to move forward in regard to e-poll books will not be the decision of this board, it will be the decision of the elected board, so this (vote) is just merely for the trial,” said Axarlis.

Just prior to the election board meeting being convened, the county commissioners unanimously approved to accept a 2023-24 Election Integrity Grant for $450,000. Drasher said after the meeting about half of the grant would be used to purchase e-poll books for the county’s 60 voting precincts if that decision is made next year. 

He told the county commissioners that the previous year’s election integrity grant was used to “cover 100 percent of the cost to print election ballots and the purchase of the Runbeck absentee ballot processing machinery.” 

Read More: $180K sorting machine will speed up mail-in and absentee ballot counting

In other business before the elections board, they unanimously voted to permanently move two polling places beginning with the Nov. 7 election.

The North Cornwall North precinct will move to 330 S. 18th St. and the North Lebanon West precinct will move to the Ebenezer United Methodist Church at 1776 Ebenezer Road.

Important Election Dates

Oct. 23 – Last day to register before the November election

Oct. 31 – Last day to apply for a mail-in ballot or civilian absentee ballot

Nov. 7 – Last day for the elections office to receive voted mail-in and civilian absentee ballots (must be received by 8 p.m.)

Nov. 7 – Municipal Election 🗳️

Nov. 14 – Last day for election office to receive voted military and overseas absentee ballots (submitted for delivery no later than 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 6.)

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...