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Alameda County Gives RFID Ballot-Tracking a Vote of Approval

In California, the county's registrar of voters has instituted a system using EPC Gen 2 tags to streamline the process of collecting ballot results.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 04, 2008Ever since the contentious 2000 U.S. presidential election, the balloting systems employed in many states have come under scrutiny—in part, because the means by which ballots are brought from polling places to a central depository, once polls are closed, has not been a well-officiated process in some states. Alameda County, the seventh largest in California and home to much of the East San Francisco Bay area, including the city of Oakland, is employing RFID to help it ensure that ballots are collected and managed properly. The county debuted the system during a small, local election held on Nov. 6, 2007, and plans to use it during upcoming presidential primaries, scheduled for Feb. 5 in California.

It all started during a casual phone conversation with a business colleague in mid-2006, explains Dave Eagleson, senior VP of sales and marketing for RFID Global Solution, an RFID solutions provider based in Maryland. During that call, Eagleson learned that Alameda County was looking to track ballots, and was encouraged to find out if his company might be able to help. By November of last year, the county's election board and RFID Global had developed and pilot-tested the system, which was ready for launch.

County workers put the voting results in a tagged canvas bag with a tamper-proof zipper-lock.

The number of polling places utilized in Alameda County varies depending on the type of election being held. The Nov. 6 election required only 27 polling places, but the larger turnout for a presidential primary requires the use of all 810 polling places throughout the county. After each polling place closes, county workers place the following items into a canvas bag with a tamper-proof zipper-lock: a memory cartridge containing the voting results scanned from all paper ballots for that location; a PCMCIA card holding the voting results from touch-screen voting machines (used by disabled voters unable to utilize the paper ballots); and a paper list of names for all people who voted at that site.

Previously, each component—the three ballot assets and the canvas bag—carried a bar-coded label with an identifier based on an alphanumeric protocol. Under the RFID system, each also carries a passive RFID tag compliant with the EPC Gen 2 UHF protocol, and in a form factor appropriate to the asset—for instance, the tag attached to the PCMCIA card has an anti-electrostatic backing. The bar codes will continue to be used as a back-up method for identifying the ballot assets and canvas bag.

Prior to Election Day, all four components were RFID-tagged at a central warehouse and distributed to the polling places. The unique IDs encoded to the PCMCIA card, memory cartridge and voter roster were all married to the ID encoded to the canvas bag's tag.

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