September 27, 2016

Enhancing Elections in Wilson County: 
a Case Study


Upgrading voting technology can be a daunting task. The varied needs of election officials make it necessary for systems to multitask, now and in the future. For Wilson County, Tennessee, the ExpressVote and DS200 provided a viable, secure and flexible solution for this year’s election cycle and beyond.

 


With a reputation for some of the best-run elections in Tennessee, the Wilson County Election Commission took the job of finding new voting technology quite seriously. An Election Systems & Software (ES&S) customer since 2006, their iVotronics were aging and a viable replacement would soon be needed. Realizing customer needs had changed, ES&S worked diligently to get the ExpressVote® Universal Voting System certified in the State of Tennessee, providing Wilson County with an enhanced voting solution. After extensive testing along with the DS200® precinct scanner, Wilson decided to extend their partnership with ES&S and purchase visionary voting solutions. During their August 4 Primary, which marked their first use of the ExpressVote and DS200, both poll workers and voters experienced a simplified Election Day while enjoying the extra security of verifiable paper records and streamlined polling place procedures.
 

Challenges

  • Quick implementation. Wilson County faced a quick turnaround period for implementation. Within eight weeks, poll workers were trained and equipment was delivered, tested and deployed for the August Primary.

  • No major adjustments for voters. Wilson County wanted to ensure voters were able to exercise their right to vote without added complication or confusion during the Primary.

  • New Election Day/Night procedures. New processes for opening and closing the polls were necessary and poll workers needed to be trained to enable the new voting solutions to work seamlessly on Election Day.


Solutions

  • Familiar interface + added security. Wilson County voters were already familiar with touch screen voting. Their printed vote records allowed them a last minute review before casting their vote.

  • Streamlined poll place opening/closing. The easy set-up requirements for both the ExpressVote and DS200 empowered many poll workers. Poll places were opened and ready for voters in less time without requiring troubleshooting calls to Election Central. Poll workers also enjoyed simple closing procedures and a single memory stick to keep track of.

  • Ease on Election Night. Unofficial results were reported faster as less memory sticks were needed for uploads (one per precinct). Absentee and provisional ballot processing was also streamlined.

  • Platform for the future. Phillip Warren, Administrator of Elections, remarked “We try to improve on the processes already in place. We try to be proactive and think ahead -- everything we offer is meant to meet a lot of needs or alleviate voter concerns because we want to preserve the integrity of the vote.”

  • Setting the standard. With their successful implementation during the August Primary, Wilson County hopes other jurisdictions take the step forward to enhance their elections with new technology.

 

Selecting a new system
 

During evaluation, Wilson County conducted 17 large school elections comparing the performance of the ExpressVote and DS200 configuration with the iVotronics. At one of the school elections in particular, 1700 votes were cast in less than 2 hours! Due diligence was important as the Elections Commission wanted to ensure they were wisely spending taxpayer funds on the best system available for Wilson County voter needs.

 
Ultimately, Wilson selected the ExpressVote and DS200. Finding the overall system attractive, Phillip and Tammy noted benefits such as:

  • User friendliness

  • Paper records adding clear voter intent

  • Ease of mind having a paper back-up

  • Attractive system from an administrative standpoint

  • Flexibility for future needs


The County wanted to ensure voters and poll workers would quickly be able to utilize the new system during their August Primary. The familiar interface made this possible as voters were used to the look and feel of going up to a touch screen and inserting a card (think a trip to the ATM). Wilson simply swapped a debit card with an Activation Card.


Wilson County also appreciated the human component of ES&S. During the development of the ExpressVote, ES&S conducted focus groups that Wilson participated in where actual suggestions and needs that counties brought up were incorporated.  


“What I liked about ES&S is that they listened. They took a lot of our ideas that we had in the small group and they implemented them and came back with a new product” Tammy Smith, Assistant Administrator, commented. “During a visit after that, we told them we were looking for products and couldn’t find them. The next time we saw them, they brought us a catalog!”

 

Changes for poll workers
 

Technology has been integrated with all systems, causing a shift in the demographics for poll workers. Outside of their partnerships with local high schools who provide student poll workers, many of the older poll workers are technologically savvy ones. Wilson County requires potential poll workers to go online and fill out their application, the first step towards showing tech literacy. With new skill sets required, it has opened the field to a wider and more capable pool of poll workers and decreased many of the minor tech support issues counties can face when workers aren’t familiar with updated systems. The county believes more people will now want to serve as poll workers thanks to the lighter equipment and easy opening and closing procedures.


In light of this, Wilson County makes sure that updated technology isn’t a barrier for those looking to serve yet not matching the required skill set level. “We try to configure our poll place system in a way that if they aren’t good with computers we can find a place for them if possible on Election Day” Tammy added.


For poll workers, the change was a welcome one that did not require major adjustment. As the system is intuitive, most found it easy to learn and had no worries on Election Day. Of the poll workers interviewed during the Primary, many echoed the county’s comparison of the system to a grocery store self check-out. “Tammy & Phillip do a good job. Every year our elections get tighter, from training to Election Day. It’s so organized people can almost go through the process on autopilot.” 


One, who indicated she had a computer background, complimented the start to finish technology integrations. “Going from a more manual process of selecting ballot styles for people, this is much preferred. There’s no real error, you just print their barcode and they follow the instructions on screen from there.” 


Signs directing voters through the voting process resemble stations you’d see at a back to school night. From the cheerful face who hands you your Activation Card with barcode, indicating your correct ballot style, to the gentlemen handing the mom and daughter an “I Voted” sticker after depositing their vote record into the DS200, Election Day in Wilson County is a stress-free affair.

“Nothing in the constitution says this has to be complicated” added Warren. “This system proves that because it’s simple and it works.”

 

Leading the charge
 

When asked one of the biggest take-aways from the implementation of their new system, Smith remarked

“One thing I wish election offices were more open to is technology and change. We believe if you expect a lot out of your poll workers they can do it. Sometimes we don’t challenge them enough.”


Upgraded technology means less time training poll workers and troubleshooting during an election. Many counties are tasked with doing innovative things with less money than they had 10 years ago, while also improving the experience for all who participate. Embracing technology, preparing for the future and planning for today can pay off in spades once implemented. 


“We’ve been able to save weeks on the backend in closing out the election and auditing, while realizing thousands of dollars in cost savings from salaries.” 


Additionally, the technology benefits of the system extend for many past Election Day. “In the beginning, some poll workers didn’t even know the computer basics or use it in their everyday life (no cell phones). Now a lot of them have their own tablet devices, all because they were introduced to more technology while serving as a poll worker” said Smith.


To learn more about our visionary voting suite which includes the ExpressVote and DS200 contact your ES&S representative or visit our products page.