Electronic poll books aim to cut Election Day confusion

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You dutifully show up to vote — sacrificing the morning coffee pit stop — only to be told, thanks to redistricting, that you’re in the wrong precinct.

So where should you be? The election judge isn’t sure. He suggests calling the Chicago Election Board.

To avoid that sort of frustration — and to bring Chicago voting into the 21st century — the election board is introducing on March 18 a tabletlike device at all of the city’s 2,069 precincts designed to speed up voter check-in and to instantly make sure voters are in the right polling place and eligible to vote.

Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Chairman Langdon Neal unveiled the equipment Wednesday, saying it will “greatly improve the voter’s election day experience.”

Until now, election judges have relied on directorylike paper poll books that contain the 600 or so names of eligible voters in a precinct. But those books are typically printed three or so weeks before each election and don’t always have the most up-to-date voter information, officials said.

The “electronic poll books” will all be continually updated with information about all 1.6 million or so city voters — including where they are registered to vote and if they’re ineligible because, for example, they voted early.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Neal says the new system has been tested for about a year and he’s confident it will make a problem-free debut.

Still, “it’s going to be battle tested on game day,” he said.

It’s a system that’s been used successfully in other states, Neal said, adding that his staff has learned from mistakes made in other jurisdictions.

Besides, for this primary at least, the old phone book-like registries will be available for judges to use, Neal said.

After a successful pilot program last April, Cook County is also planning to use similar devices in about one-quarter of the precincts on primary day, said Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr.

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