Jun 02 2021

Technology Supporting Election Infrastructure Enables Security and Access

Harris County in Texas leaned on iPad devices and other IT infrastructure to shatter its election turnout record last year.

In 2020, Texas’s Harris County (home to Houston) tripled its early voting locations from those established for 2016 and piloted a 24-hour voting period and drive-through voting system. In part due to these features, the county surpassed its total 2016 voter turnout before the end of October, while early voting was still underway.

Tech investments helped to power Harris County’s efforts, with Apple iPad devices and other infrastructure facilitating a number of critical processes. The county deployed 1,700 iPad tablets in 2020, and poll workers used them to check in voters using their photo IDs and connect voters to virtual translators via video chat.

“There are a variety of systems that support our infrastructure,” says a spokesperson from the Harris County Elections Administrator’s office. “From our internal voter database system to releasing the results online in an easy-to-read manner, we want to ensure that our elections are modernized and efficient while safeguarding the security of ballots.”

Technology Enables Secure and Efficient Election Administration

Harris County’s success underscores how vital IT infrastructure has become to enabling election security and providing access to as many voters as possible. Rita Reynolds, CIO for the National Association of Counties, notes that counties across the country used videoconferencing collaboration tools last fall, both to support translation and to allow media and candidate representatives to monitor vote counting.

“I see that continuing,” Reynolds says. “It’s a lot better use of time and resources. In 2020, you had to keep people at a distance due to the pandemic. Allowing that extra option of being able to view remotely with video streaming made it easier to meet those needs. It’s convenient, and I see that continuing for sure.”

Reynolds predicts that elections departments will also ramp up use of multifactor authentication to protect their systems and deploy more geographic information system tools to help voters keep track of shifting voting locations.

Harris County supports a system that estimates wait times for voters — helping people to plan their trips to the polls, and increasing access by allowing people to avert long lines. Information about wait time is pulled from poll locations using iPad devices, and the county’s website uses a color-coded system to show voters nearby locations with little to no wait. The county even trains high school students to work as support specialists, and the students update the wait-time feature every 15 minutes to ensure accuracy.

Harris County elections officials expect IT infrastructure to continue to have a significant impact on the elections process.

“Our office’s tagline is ‘where democracy meets innovation,’ and tech is going to be key in this,” says the spokesperson. “We want to ensure our elections are safe and secure, while continuing to make voting easier for voters and improving our internal processes.”

RELATED: Secretaries of state remain concerned about election disinformation.

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