NEWBURYPORT — A new electronic check-in system caused some confusion at the polls Tuesday when voters were asked if they could show identification, despite an ID not being required in Massachusetts for most cases.
Poll Pad, an electronic voter check-in and verification system, has been used during early voting in the city for the past couple of years, but this is the first time it has been used on Election Day, according to City Clerk Richard Jones.
The system replaces binders of names and addresses with an Apple iPad that poll workers use to check voters in.
By switching to the electronic system, Jones aimed to have every poll worker on the same page with the process. At check-in, poll workers have the option to either enter the first three letters of a person’s last name and the first letter of their first name, or they can scan a person’s driver’s license.
Registered voters generally do not need to show an ID to receive a ballot at the polls, which is why the option to show an ID threw some voters off Tuesday.
As listed on the Secretary of State’s Office website, the exceptions that may require someone to show identification are if a person is voting for the first time in the state in a federal election; if a person is an inactive voter; if a person is casting a provisional or challenged ballot; and if poll workers have reasonable suspicion that leads them to request identification.
“What I hope every poll worker says is, ‘You do not need your license, but if you have it, it will make things go quicker,’” Jones said.
“We went to great pains to try to get everyone to say it that way,” he added.
While the clerk believes most poll workers said it that way, he also knows of some instances that caused anger and confusion in the lines at the polls.
On Tuesday, Jones heard of at least one instance at the Hope Community Church, the polling place for Wards 3 and 4, where someone turned around in the check-in line to tell another person to have a driver’s license ready.
This led at least one couple to throw their hands in the air in frustration and leave the polls without voting.
Coincidentally, Assistant City Clerk Patricia Barker was walking into the polling place at the time and asked what the issue was. When the couple replied that they would need their licenses, Barker said it was not true and that voter ID is not required.
Concerns were also raised in Ward 2, where at least one person reported seeing a sign at the former Brown School, asking people to show a driver’s license.
Jones said he checked in after receiving a complaint and reminded poll workers to be careful with how they worded this request. He said he understood why people were caught off guard but it was only a suggestion to streamline the process.
“Many, many, many people don’t mind showing a license,” he said. “In fact, many people thought it was a good thing.”
Jones said he understood that issues did arise with poll workers trying to type names in and spelling them incorrectly. He said this was not much different than what happens when poll workers are flipping through pages of binders to find someone’s name and address.
Ultimately, Poll Pad is supposed to make the process more efficient. All aspects of the process are approved by the state.
The average check-in Tuesday took seven seconds, Jones said.
“Newburyport is not alone,” he said. “Poll Pads are being used by many municipalities now. In order to improve elections, I think Poll Pads are the way to go.”
Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.