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Costa Rica Counts on RFID to Monitor Ballots

Starting next month, the nation will begin using battery-assisted EPC Gen 2 tags to track the collection of bags used to transport paper ballots.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Throughout the evening, election officials may also utilize handheld Motorola MC9090 interrogators, to seek out specific ballot bags from key districts, before the bags are brought through the first portal. This will be done in order to pull these bags from the main stream of bags entering the facility, so that they can be immediately opened and counted. Doing so will provide important information to the election officials regarding the direction in which certain ballot items are trending.

According to De La Hormoza, a bar-coded label will be attached to each bag as well, printed with the same unique ID encoded to each tag, so that officials will have a back-up means for collecting the number (using a bar-code scanner) in the event that a tag ceases to function.

Because large numbers of bags often arrive at the central warehouse simultaneously, they will be stacked atop each other on the carts used to bring them into the facility. With a large number of bags thus piled, a fully passive tag could be difficult to read. To that end, Grupo Diverscan opted to use the PowerID BAP tags (also known as semi-active tags). The tag's battery powers its chip, so it need not scavenge energy from the reader's RF signal in order to power the ID's transmission back to the interrogators. This makes the reading process less susceptible to interference from other tags, or from such environmental factors as metallic surfaces or moisture.

This will not be the first time that RFID is used for tracking ballot bags. In 2007, California's Alameda County employed passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to track canvas bags, each containing a memory cartridge encoded with the voting results scanned from all paper ballots for that location; a PCMCIA card storing the voting results from touch-screen voting machines (used by disabled voters unable to utilize the paper ballots); and a paper list naming all individuals who voted at that site (see Alameda County Gives RFID Ballot-Tracking a Vote of Approval). What's more, De La Hormoza says, election agencies in Colombia and Brazil have used RFID for tracking election documents in the past. But this bag-tracking application, he notes, will be the first major deployment of the technology in Costa Rica.

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