Virginia envisages moving Election Day electronic poll books online, despite alleged fraud risks

The pilot project to put the electronic poll books online on Election Day was supposed to start this year, but was postponed.

Updated: November 11, 2021 - 11:42pm

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The Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) plans to press ahead with a decision to move its electronic poll books online for Election Day in a future election, despite a range of risks with EPBs cited by critics, including technical malfunctions, decreased transparency, and partisan exploitation of unequal access to election data.

Electronic poll books caused many issues on Election Day in the New Jersey gubernatorial election this year, as polling locations across the state struggled to connect online with the state database.

In that state's election, voters signed electronic poll books that were connected to the internet to verify their identity before casting their vote, as opposed to signing manual books like in previous years.  

With a record of all voters eligible at each polling location, the electronic system provides real-time updates to the state voter database. It was intended to prevent people from voting on different days or in multiple locations during early voting, officials said, according to NJ.com.

Virginia was planning on moving the electronic poll books of five counties online for Election Day this year through a pilot project, in addition to using them for early voting, but after one county's electoral board chair declined, they decided to hold off for a future election.

Kristen Kalina, the chair of the Loudoun County Electoral Board, was approached by the Loudoun County General Registrar in October with a form from the Virginia State Board of Elections regarding a pilot project to move the county's electronic poll books online for Election Day on Nov. 2, 2021.

When asked to sign the form, Kalina declined, as she told Just the News that it was too close to the election without her having had enough time to look into the project.

She explained that she has heard conflicting views regarding moving the electronic poll books online, with various people she respects being on opposite sides of the issue.

"It was too close to the election without enough time to investigate" the pilot project, Kalina said, clarifying that she didn't know enough about it and wanted to understand it better before agreeing to anything.

Loudoun County was one of five Virginia counties to be approached regarding the pilot project. Kalina said Fairfax County had agreed to do the pilot project, and the counties of Montgomery, Wise, and James City were also selected for it.

The specific five counties were chosen for their size, which vendor they use for their electronic poll books, their geographical location, and interest in the pilot project, according to the pilot program document obtained by Just the News through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to ELECT.

Kalina explained that having electronic poll books online during early voting prevents someone from voting multiple times at different precincts over the early voting period. However, she added that it's not necessary on Election Day because after a person votes they aren't able to vote again.

The argument for moving the electronic poll books online for Election Day, Kalina said, is that it helps with security because there would be a centralized command center for all the precincts.

While she said that the State Board of Elections intends on pushing the project next year, according to ELECT, "the pilot has been postponed until a future election that is not determined at this time."

The purpose of the project is to "evaluate the use of wireless connectivity in the operation of electronic pollbooks (EPBs) on Election Day to confirm that EPBs certified to the new standards can operate successfully while connected to the VPN or Cloud."

During the 2020 general election, the Virginia State Board of Elections allowed "EPBs to connect to the VPN or Cloud at satellite early voting sites."

According to ELECT, local general registrars found that moving electronic poll books online enabled them to make check-in times faster, view early-voting sites' voting status from their offices, check in voters at curbside, update voter records automatically, monitor voter turnout in real time, and promptly "chat" with poll workers to troubleshoot any issues.

The project clarifies that only voting machines are legally prohibited from being connected online, while electronic poll books are not.

Various requirements were provided to localities for the project, including steps to take before Election Day and how to ensure a secure online connection.

ELECT told Just the News, "EPBs are used to check voters into the polling place and their operation does not have any impact on the ballots counted."

When comparing Virginia's system to New Jersey's electronic poll book issues, the official said, "Virginia requires paper pollbook backups at every polling place to ensure continuity of the election in the event of any disruption to the electronic pollbook."

However, according to New Jersey law, polling locations are also required to have "a backup paper polling register or signature copy register on the day of the election when required."

The spokeswoman added, "utilizing EPBs actually reduces the chances for fraud as it provides real time information to all polling locations and the central office on who has checked in to vote."

Phill Kline, director of election integrity group the Amistad Project, told Just the News that during the 2020 presidential election, there was unequal access to electronic poll books. In states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, leftist organizations had access to them, which meant there was an "unequal treatment of voters based on party or geography," he said.

He explained that "technology consolidates information and allows it to be accessed in a way that's easier to commit fraud."

With electronic poll books placed online, they could be accessed anywhere in the world, and that opens doors to potential problems, Kline warned.

"Technology tends to make elections less transparent," he said. "Elections need to be transparent, but few know how [the technology] works."

It's "a lot better when you count marks on paper," Kline added, referring to hand counting paper ballots.

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