Shorter wait time for Houston County voters in upcoming primary

Updated: Apr. 10, 2018 at 4:23 PM CDT
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HOUSTON CO., AL (WSFA) - Often when you think about Election Day, you think about the long line to vote. For voters in Houston County, the line to vote in this year's primary election is expected to move more quickly.

Instead of checking in based on the first letter of your last name and verifying your information in a paper book, voters will use an electronic poll book.

"The Electronic Poll Book is a device similar to a laptop computer that allows the voter to register when they come to the voting precinct," said Houston County Probate Judge Patrick Davenport.

Poll workers will scan the voter's driver license or picture ID and it automatically pulls up the person's voter information. Once the information is confirmed, they are released to vote.

Secretary of State John Merrill says the technology cuts down the check-in process to vote from minutes to seconds.

"In Scottsboro they did one person every 27 seconds," said Merrill. "In Marengo County, it was one person every 17 seconds."

Efficiency is especially important this primary election – with the ballot including candidates for governor and contested races across the state. That means more people potentially headed to the polls.

According to the probate judge's office, Houston County's voter turnout in 2014 was at 16 percent. This year, it's expected to be anywhere between 50 to 60 percent. Davenport says with so many people expected, having the poll books in place will definitely help.

"I would anticipate the turnout to be large," said Davenport. "We're excited to be able to implement this now so that it will be a real benefit in efficiency."

The machines will also help enforce Alabama's Crossover Law, where voters are required to vote within their party in the event of a primary runoff. The device stores voter party information.

It's also expected to help prevent voter fraud. The device recognizes once you've checked in at a polling location and would alert a poll worker if you tried to check-in again at another location to vote again. It will also alert a poll worker if the voter submitted an absentee ballot and was attempting to vote at a precinct.

The system is not connected to the internet, which state leaders say reduces the chances of a breach.

"There's no way a breach can occur where anybody will be able to infiltrate the voter rolls and modify information that's in there or add and delete," Merrill said.

The county's 75 devices are expected to arrive in the next two to three weeks. Voter information will be loaded and poll workers will be trained on the device.

Houston County's devices cost $100,000. According to Davenport, roughly 90 percent was covered by federal election money and state reimbursement money.

The state hopes to have the technology fully implemented in all 67 counties across the state by the year 2022. WSFA is working to get a full list of which counties have the technology.

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