ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota task force studying a higher-tech voter verification process leaned away Monday from recommending that electronic poll books be mandatory in every precinct for the 2014 statewide election.
Several panel members highlighted concerns over equipment costs, security protocols and timing while describing a full-scale rollout by next fall as a tall order. The task force will deliver its final recommendations to the Legislature in January and could call for more experimentation.
"We need to make sure we don't do it too soon — before we are ready," said task force member Max Hailperin, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Gustavus Adolphus College.
Election administration has taken on a larger profile in Minnesota given recent history with lengthy recounts in consecutive elections for U.S. Senate and governor. The Legislature sought the electronic roster study after voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have required a government-issued photo ID to obtain a ballot.
Advocates of the e-poll books say they'll add another tool against voter fraud, cut wait times and reduce errors from data now entered manually. Discussion has shifted away from requiring that photos be part of the electronic rosters, however.
Dan McGrath, president of the Minnesota Majority watchdog group that favors an expansive verification standard, was disappointed by suggestions that e-poll book implementation would be slowed and its features slimmed.
"I kind of feel like at every turn people are trying to water down what I think is the most important about this, and that is improving election integrity," McGrath said after the hearing. "The poll books really to be effective as a fraud prevention measure have to be statewide, have to be mandatory."
A limited pilot project during this fall's small-turnout municipal elections highlighted the complexities of implementing the rosters in place of low-tech paper binder voters are accustomed to seeing at polling places. It's still not clear how costs between the state and local governments would be split or whether lawmakers would create data security standards.
In the study, vendors who could compete for future state business supplied the equipment and voters still signed in the old-fashioned way as well. Both methods contain the same type of information: registration data and an indication of whether someone voted or has had a challenged registration status.
Christina Tvedten, a Ramsey County elections official, said voters at that entity's pilot sites fell into two camps during follow-up surveys. Some were impressed by the technology, while others regarded it as a needless fix to a system they don't regard as broken. Tvedten said the county wants to press ahead with the poll books, but still do it on an experimental basis for now.
Next year's election is expected to draw heavy turnout because it will feature contests for governor and Senate. Both Democratic incumbents, Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, won their offices by tiny margins following recounts.