No Poll Pads for election day

Thirty-four Poll Pads purchased to help in voting process will be unavailable on Election Day. (File photo)

Technology purchased to help speed up the voting process in Kleberg County will not be available on Election Day, officials said this week.

Kleberg County had previously purchased 34 iPads to be used with an application called Poll Pad that did away with the paper sign in process at polling stations. The system was first used during last November's constitutional election and was successfully used during the Primary Election in March.

Election personnel at the polling stations were able to use the tablet's camera to scan a voter's driver's license or voter registration card, and the system automatically matched the voter to a database stored on the device.

On Wednesday, Kleberg County Clerk Stephanie Garza said the Poll Pads were used during the first three days of early voting, but she and her staff immediately encountered a problem.

The data could not be retrieved from the devices on Oct. 20-22, and calls to the vendor, Know Ink, did not yield any results. The key issue, Garza said, was that while the data was successfully stored on the devices, the application would not upload it so that it could be retrieved. That was met with strong disapproval, and some accusations of misconduct, from candidates who were asking for daily reports on early voting.

"The candidates were getting ugly," Garza said. She added that any allegations of wrongdoing on her part were, "ridiculous."

On Oct. 23, Garza made the decision to stop using the iPads and to return to the paper system used in past elections.

"I couldn't continue the election not knowing if the Poll Pads are going to be working," she said.

Garza and her staff, assisted by Tax Assessor Collector Melissa T. De La Garza, who also serves as the county's voter registrar, worked late into the night Oct. 23 manually matching the data on the devices with the books of registered voters. The books were used for the remainder of early voting, were balanced several times each day and will be used on Election Day.

Garza assured those who voted in the first few days of early voting that they were successfully recorded. Because the data on the iPads was matched with the books of registered voters, there is also not a possibility that someone who voted in the first few days could return and vote again.

"You are stamped in our books," Garza said.

On Wednesday, De La Garza agreed with that assessment.

"I'm very confident all the numbers were right on target," De La Garza said. "Many hours were spent making sure all the numbers were recorded."

Garza also pointed out that the Poll Pad software was only used to process voters, not to process ballots. No ballot information was stored on the devices. A second system kept track of the number of ballots filed, and that number has been matched to the data manually retrieved from the devices.

"The poll pad and the M100 are two different things," Garza said. "The Poll Pad processes the voter. The M100 has the results of the election, which of course we won't find out until Election Day."

Garza has shifted personnel around to handle the added workload of returning to paper, and asked for the public's patience on Election Day.

As of Friday afternoon, a total of 2,672 voters had voted early in person. Strong numbers are expected for Tuesday, so there may be longer wait times at some polling locations.

"We've had a tremendous turnout," Garza said.

As for the Poll Pads, Garza said the issue has been narrowed down to a bug that showed up when the iPads were updated to the recently released IOS 8 operating system.

"There's a bug on there that prevents us from sending our files to (Know Ink)," Garza said.

The county purchased an initial run of 17 iPads with the software last year at a cost of about $17,000, which was funded by money received several years ago from the federal Help America Vote Act.

In January of this year, the county bought an additional 17 iPads with the Poll Pad software installed that were funded by the County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector offices for about $16,500.

Representatives with Know Ink, the Missouri-based company behind the software, have said Kleberg County was the first in the state to utilize the technology for an election.

"I still would like to continue the Poll Pads, but I've just got to get my confidence back in them," Garza said of future elections.

On Friday, Scott Leiendecker, a managing director with Know Ink, said the issue had been resolved and the Poll Pad software was ready to be used again. Leiendecker said the iPads should not have been updated to the new operating system, although he acknowledged that the company had not told its customers to hold off on the update.

"She didn't contact us to let us know that, and I think that's when the disconnect came into play," Leiendecker said. "If she had contacted us, we would have advised her not to do that."

The issue was corrected by the company on Thursday, Oct. 30, Leiendecker said, and on Friday he recommended the iPads be reintroduced on Election Day.

"The application is ready, the application is fixed and the application could be used in the Tuesday election," Leiendecker said. "I really wish she would use it for Tuesday. The application works perfectly well. It's up to her, she's the clerk."

On Friday, Garza said she had discussed the issue with the Texas Secretary of State's office, and they had advised her to continue using the paper registration for this election, rather than switching multiple times between systems.

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