Michelle Mann

Kudos, commissioners, for stepping up to the plate

This is another first in Coffee County.

The primary election marks the first time that electronic poll books will be used as voters sign in to any of the 29 Coffee County polling places March 3.

Gone are the days of waiting in lines as poll workers flip through huge paper poll books searching for each name. Having been on both sides of that table over the years, I promise you it is not more fun on either side of the process.

Thanks to the Coffee County Commission, this primary election will be the first that poll workers have access to e-poll books. This election is the debut of the new poll books used in lieu of the printed lists of qualified voters.

Electronic poll books are not new either nationally or in the state of Alabama—but they are new to this county. The concept was piloted in 22 Alabama counties in the 2016 general election and has been shown to dramatically reduce voter wait time by 60 to 75 percent, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. “These systems have also been shown to virtually eliminate the user errors which often exist with cumbersome paper rosters.”

“Easier and more efficient,” is the way Coffee County Chief Election Clerk Susan Carmichael describes the more techno-savvy way of doing things.

In addition to faster check-in at the polls, other benefits are the expedited uploading of voter information pre- and post-election; the ability to easily redirect voters to the correct polling location; the reduction of the number of provisional ballots issued; and the elimination of registrars having to scan voter history by hand.

The Coffee County Commissioners had considered buying the e-poll books for several years but decided to this year after talking with current poll workers and other counties that had implemented the system. “We didn’t want to be the first county to use them but we didn’t want to be the last,” is the way Coffee County Commissioner Jim Thompson explained it. Good thinking, in my estimation.

Realistically this first election will have a learning curve both on the part of poll workers and voters but Coffee County should be commended for leading the charge into the electronic world.

Voters need to be aware that the e-poll books will not replace the paper ballot, which must still be fed into the ballot box. With speedier check-in there is every possibility of a quagmire at the ballot box. In that event, we might ponder the words of the late, great Greek philosopher, Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.”

The e-poll books are not inexpensive costing up to $1,000 each. As a journalist who has covered more than one county’s commission meetings, I do know that the dollar amount—realistically—has been a decision maker for some county governments.

In the opinion of the above pictured person, one of the scariest sentences ever uttered is “We’ve always done it this way.”

Kudos, Coffee County Commissioners, for stepping up to the 21st Century plate.

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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