Technology helps county track voting equipment
The Maricopa County, Ariz., Elections Department has begun using new technology to track all pieces of election equipment as they are moved between storage and polling places. Elections officials can tell instantly where any polling equipment is located, avoiding human error and ensuring the integrity of vote-counting for the county’s 2 million registered voters.
Maricopa County contains more than 1,000 precincts, each with its own polling place that operates on one of four designated days in March, May, August/September and November. The county has more than 10,000 pieces of election equipment, including ballot boxes, ballot bags, voting machines and optical scanners.
In 2008, the county was subject to a federal audit as part of the requirements of a grant it received through the Help America Vote Act. At that point, the county’s inventory management processes displayed their weaknesses. “We could not come up with the location of an individual piece of equipment quickly,” says Terry Thompson, IT director for the Recorder’s Office. “The federal officials would want to verify a claimed equipment purchase by seeing a particular piece with a particular serial number. If that equipment was in the warehouse, one worker could take hours, or days, to find an individual serial number. We could find everything, but it was a manual process.”
County staff created a custom system to better manage the equipment. They determined they would need hand-held computers with barcode readers and GPS. In April 2010 the county purchased more than 140 Nautiz X5s by Corvallis, Ore.-based Handheld US and began setting up the new tracking system, writing software in-house using Visual Studio, installing a wireless signal booster on the equipment warehouse, and applying barcode seals and labels to all equipment.
Now, as each piece of equipment leaves the central warehouse, its barcode is scanned. Each delivery truck is tracked by GPS in the hand-held computer and Google tracking, which creates a permanent record of the trip. When a truck reaches a polling place, the delivered equipment is scanned again, and its new position is recorded. If the driver delivers a piece of equipment to the wrong place, the scan is rejected and the program signals an alert. When polls close, the operations are reversed.
The next federal audit in June 2011 went much more smoothly, and last year Maricopa County’s fixed assets tracking system won an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.