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RFID Brings Visibility to Ballots for Elections Board

By tracking ballot boxes, voting machines and other assets as they are sent to and returned from precincts, the Stark County Ohio Elections Board can ensure that ballots are accounted for during primary and general elections.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 03, 2020

An Ohio elections board is keeping a close eye on its voting assets as they travel to and return from precincts and its warehouse, thanks to an RFID-based solution. The system ensures that the board's memory cards, voting machines and ballot boxes are accountable at all times. In that way, the board can be sure all votes from each precinct are properly received and counted, and expediently so.

The Stark County Board of Elections (BoE) is leveraging a low-cost UHF RFID solution from Metalcraft subsidiary ARK Business Systems. Grey Trunk RFID, Ark's first standalone product, was designed to enable the RFID tracking of goods for small to mid-sized organizations and companies. With the technology, the elections board can read tagged assets as they are delivered to and picked up from precincts and its warehouse, as well as view the collected data on secure, cloud-based software.

The BoE first deployed the system in late 2018, says Jason Wise, the Stark County Board of Elections' coordinator, in time for local primary and general elections. Stark County operates 126 polling places, with equipment delivered to four drop-off locations and the Board of Elections' warehouse. Equipment includes supply suitcases, voting machines and baker's boxes, which are delivered to drop-off locations and must be accounted for—traditionally by a worker filling out and signing paperwork.

The same process takes place at the warehouse, where memory card packs, ballot boxes and transfer cases filled with receipt rolls from the voting machines are received and stored. Mistakes can occur while equipment is being distributed and then returned within a short span of time, such as a memory card remaining in a voting machine and thus being misplaced. Since there are approximately 1,400 machines in use, finding a missing memory card could be an exhaustive process.

In fact, the manual effort involved in tracking all of the assets means that election results are often not released until after midnight. "With elections, everything is under a watchful eye," Wise says, "and tracking the voting assets is a difficult task and a key challenge. There's nothing worse than on an election night, at 11 PM, trying to find a missing memory card while the press and public are waiting for results."

The Grey Trunk solution was launched, in part, because it was simple to adopt and use, Wise says. "Elections workers do not like change," he explains. He describes the Grey Trunk system as being as simple as playing a game on a smartphone. With the solution, the election board is applying passive UHF RFID tags to ballot boxes and memory cards, as well as to any other moveable assets that need to be quickly located on election day or after.

Each tag's unique ID number is linked to data about a particular item and is stored in the Grey Trunk software. As each item is delivered to a drop-off location or precinct, BoE workers use a handheld reader to capture its tag ID, and the software updates that item's status to indicate where it has been delivered. When the item returns at the end of the election, its tag is read again. The BoE can quickly identify when any particular item, such as a memory card, is not where it is expected to be. The handheld reader can also be used in search mode, utilizing a Grey Trunk app on a smartphone with a Bluetooth connection to a reader, in order to scan through assets to locate a missing item.

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