Signing in to vote will be different this election cycle in 12 of Lebanon County’s 60 precincts.

Read More: County election board approves trial run of e-poll books at select local precincts

Instead of signing a paper poll book, those voters will e-sign an electronic poll (e-poll) book as part of a trial run being conducted by county election officials, according to Sean D. Drasher, Lebanon County elections director.

LebTown file photo of Sean Drasher, left, director of Lebanon County Voter Registration/Elections, discussing e-poll book technology with Caleb Shaffer and Joseph Passarella of Election Systems and Software, center and right. (James Mentzer)

“The e-poll book content is really no different in any way from the paper poll books,” said Drasher. “It is a public-available file that is used to create them, and they are not connected in any way to our election system – just like the paper ones aren’t. Just like the paper ones, it (e-poll) contains a list of addresses, names, birthdates and your signature for matching purposes.”

Drasher said voters in the participating precincts will notice few procedural changes when they arrive at the polls on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 7). The experiment is being conducted to determine if the county should purchase and then transition all paper poll books to e-poll books. 

“The poll worker will look them up on the tablet instead of looking them up in the paper book and then the voter will sign their name just like they did in the paper book,” said Drasher. “Then, rather than being handed a ballot ticket that is preprinted, they’ll be handed a ballot ticket that’s printed right there just for them. That’s really the only difference. It is the same process for the voter, nothing has changed.”

Drasher noted all poll workers in those precincts have been trained on their use and will be provided a best practices guide explaining how they operate as backup to their training. 

“They all went through some light training and we have had no pushback from any of them saying they were uncomfortable with it,” said Drasher. “In fact, we had a lot of poll workers come in and they went through the training so quickly and were comfortable with it that we felt we had to talk to them a little bit longer just to make sure they were.”

Although the electronic tablets have additional functionality, Drasher chose to keep the process simple. Omaha-based Elections Systems and Software and St. Louis-based KNOWiNK have supplied the tablets at no cost to Lebanon County for this election.

“The books do have additional functionality, but we just want to mimic as closely as possible our current process for now,” said Drasher. “If everything goes well and it’s a big if, but if the commissioners were to decide to move forward and before the next election, we’ll write up documentation and do a full in-depth training with everyone as part of the poll worker training next year.”

The three individuals who are voted to serve as county commissioners in this election will decide in the new year whether to purchase and utilize e-poll books in future elections. 

Since all three current commissioners (and one challenger) are running for office, the three sitting commissioners are prohibited by state law from serving as election board officials during that election year. During a reorganization meeting in January, the commissioners will appoint three individuals to serve on the election board. 

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

Depending on the success of the trial, the new election board will be asked to consider using Pennsylvania Act 88 (election integrity funding) to purchase the e-poll books, meaning a potential purchase will come at no cost to county taxpayers.

“It ensures more integrity if you know you are getting it right the first time,” said Drasher. “That’s what I want. I want it right the first time, everytime, and this is pushing us in the right direction.”

Drasher said having e-poll books in every precinct would serve other purposes beyond enhancing election integrity with some of the biggest benefits occurring on the back end. One such benefit would happen about a week after the polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

There are counts, overall counts, that we are reconciling with the election board,” said Drasher. “Then, the week after that, we have to go voter by voter record and individually update every voter record and that’s what takes weeks to do. To make sure it is absolutely perfect, you have to redo it and redo it. It is a time-consuming and very meticulous process.”

That workload would be drastically reduced with the advent of e-poll books.

“That now becomes a couple of clicks, one, two, three, and I’ll have my report generated for what happened on Election Day,” said Drasher. “We don’t have to worry about any files being updated incorrectly that we have to go back and audit and find. This is going to be done and over with in a few clicks. Weeks of work will be reduced to a couple of hours. Instead of the whole office working for a couple of weeks to update the records, it will be done by one person in a couple of hours.”

E-poll books also help lessen the possibility of human error when election officials update voter records, according to Drasher.

“It is pulling the human element out of the middle of this,” said Drasher. “It’s very difficult to explain in a short article all the things that can go wrong, but when you are doing that much data entry, hundreds of thousands of clicks and tens of thousands of records, it is almost impossible not to have a misclick somewhere. Even if there is one mistake in 10,000, you have to go back and catch it and so you are auditing and auditing and auditing yourself to make sure you have everything absolutely perfect.” 

Around 17,000 of the county’s 91,000 registered voters, or 18.65 percent, will participate in the e-signing experiment. Drasher noted the precincts that were selected were chosen with great thought.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t have everything lumped into one party since some precincts are party-heavy,” said Drasher. “We also wanted to make sure we had some large precincts but not exclusively, so a couple of medium-sized and small ones, too. We also wanted to ensure we spread them out around the county. When we first started picking what we thought would be good candidates, we had lumped them altogether unintentionally. If you were to put pins on a map, you would see that they are evenly spaced out.”

Here’s a list of the 12 participating polls by precinct number, precinct name and location:

  • 01-E – Lebanon First Ward East – Washington Arms Apartment Bldg. – 303 Chestnut St., Lebanon
  • 01-M – Lebanon First Ward Middle – Lebanon Church of the Brethren (Pershing entrance) – 400 Locust St., Lebanon 
  • 02-E – Lebanon Second Ward East – LCBC Church – 124 S. 10th St., Lebanon
  • 02-W – Lebanon Second Ward West – Messiah Lutheran Church -1800 Oak St., Lebanon
  • 15-N – Myerstown North – Myerstown Community Library – 199 N. College St., Myerstown
  • 15-S – Myerstown South – Keystone Fire Company – 25 S. Railroad St., Myerstown 
  • 25 – North Annville – Bellegrove Fire Company Social Hall – 1725 Black’s Bridge Rd., Annville
  • 26W – North Cornwall West – Faith Baptist Church – 220 S 22nd Street, Lebanon 
  • 28E – North Londonderry East – Londonderry Village (Main entrance, Chapel Room) – 1200 Grubb Rd., Palmyra 
  • 30N  – South Lebanon North – Masonic Temple (Back entrance) – 499 South 14th Avenue, Lebanon
  • 30S – South Lebanon South – Zion United Methodist Church of Iona – 1920 S. 5th Ave., Lebanon
  • 35 – West Lebanon – West Lebanon Township Building – 322 N. 22nd St., Lebanon

In other election news, Drasher said just over 8,200 mail-in ballots were distributed by the time the application window closed on Tuesday. 

Drasher strongly encourages mail-in applicants to drop theirs off at the county municipal building on Eighth Street if they haven’t mailed it yet. 

Ballots can be deposited in the secure ballot box at the rear entrance (next to the parking lot) to the municipal building during normal business hours from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Election Day until 8 p.m. 

They can also be delivered to the elections bureau office during the same business hours and until 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

LebTown file photo of election volunteers during the spring 2023 municipal primary. (Will Trostel)

“Ballots must be in hand by 8 p.m. on Election Day and not postmarked by that time,” said Drasher, “otherwise they won’t count. We also ask that you don’t wait until 8 p.m. to deliver them.”

Drasher said he expects about a 30 percent turnout for this election, but hopes that every voter exercises their right to vote given the importance of this election in the lives of Lebanon countians.

“This election doesn’t get all of the glamor and money and the TV spots that the national elections do, but this is the election to decide zoning regulations around your house, what books go into your schools and all of those kinds of things,” said Drasher. “It’s a very important election and I understand it can be hard to research every candidate, but it is very, very important to turn out for this election and vote for what’s going on in your community.”

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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...