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Rugged Technology Provides A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE

As each asset leaves the warehouse, its barcode is scanned. A Nautiz handheld in each delivery truck is tracked in real time using GPS and Google tracking, which creates a permanent record of the trip. At each polling place, off-loaded equipment is scanned again, and the GPS coordinates of its new position are added. 

Elections officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, now know exactly where every piece of election equipment is in real time, enhancing the integrity of the voting process.

Challenge

Devise and employ a system to provide the precise location of thousands of pieces of equipment in real-time. 

Solution

Use barcode-scanning, GPS and the rugged Nautiz X5 handheld to track the movements of every piece of equipment in the system.

Results

The ability to locate any individual piece of elections equipment instantly, reinforcing the integrity of the voting process.

 

A democratic society is built on one fundamental premise: Every vote counts. The election process – whether it involves voting for a president or local parks funding – must be trusted by everyone involved. The rare glitches in some recent American election logistics have been met with public outrage, and rightfully so. 

That’s why the Elections Department of Maricopa County, Arizona - USA, recently initiated an innovative technology solution to track every piece of election equipment in every polling place all year long, using a variety of technological capabilities built into Nautiz X5 rugged handheld computers from Handheld. 

It’s a pretty big challenge. Maricopa County is the fourth-largest county in the U.S., encompassing the greater Phoenix area and beyond – roughly 2 million registered voters. The county sees upwards of 200 distinct elections each year and owns more than 10,000 pieces of election equipment, including ballot boxes, ballot bags, voting machines and optical scanners. 

The challenge of accurately keeping track of all this equipment is obvious, but the need for a better system was painfully illustrated by a federal audit. The county had received elections funding through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and all recipients of funds via this law are subject to audit by federal elections officials. When the feds came calling, chaos ensued. 

Terry Thompson, IT Director for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, recalls, “We could not come up with the location of an individual piece of equipment quickly. The federal officials would want to verify a claimed equipment purchase, by seeing a particular piece with a particular serial number. If that equipment was in the warehouse, one worker could take hours, or days, to find an individual serial number.” 

It didn’t take much of that painful process to understand that they needed a better system. They formed a county project team to begin devising a custom solution from scratch. They studied their needs, set their objectives, and considered the available technology. And then they went shopping. 

The team’s requirements list included a Windows Mobile operating system, GPS capability, a barcode reader, a QWERTY keyboard, ruggedized construction for field use, and a long battery life. “I started doing the research, and the Nautiz X5 was pretty much the only device I found that met all our needs,” Thompson says. 

The Nautiz X5 has a high-speed 806 MHz Xscale processor and runs Windows Mobile 6.1. It features a VGA screen, an integrated 3-megapixel autofocus camera and SIRF Instant Fix II GPS technology. It’s lightweight at less than 15 ounces (390 grams), and its standard HSPDA delivers lightning-fast, 3 G-level communications. It also has integrated BT and 802.11b/g, offers an optional QWERTY keyboard and includes a standard battery that lasts more than a full workday on a single charge. 

And, importantly, the Nautiz X5 carries an IP65 rating that means it’s impervious to dust and highly water-resistant, and it can withstand drops and operate in a vast range of temperatures. 

The county purchased more than 140 Nautiz X5s to use with its improved tracking system. Here’s how the new system works for an election day: 

As each piece of equipment leaves the central warehouse, its barcode is scanned. A Nautiz X5 in each delivery truck is tracked in real time using GPS and Google tracking, which creates a permanent record of the trip. At each polling place, off-loaded equipment is scanned again, and the GPS coordinates of its new position are snapped in. 

Throughout the day, individual voters’ ballots are scanned, and the results stored on a PROM pack (programmable read-only memory), akin to a flash card. The PROM packs are each scanned four times – when they leave the warehouse, when they’re dropped off at each voting site, when they’re read at the end of the day at a receiving site, and when they’re returned to the warehouse to be stored. 

It’s an information-intensive process, and every bit of tracking data is synchronized in real time to a central server. 

Of course, the information is only as reliable as the equipment gathering it, and the Nautiz X5 has proved to be up to the task. In particular, Thompson has been impressed with its ruggedness. 

“We hire a few hundred temporary workers and trucks for each election, and believe me, in the warehouse area, they aren’t exactly easy on the equipment,” he says. “We haven’t had to replace a single Nautiz X5. That says volumes – and it’s more than I can say for the other election equipment.” 

Another big test came this past June: another federal audit.
“Our goal for this system was to be able to be given a description of a piece of equipment and a serial number, and be able to look it up on the screen or produce a report telling us exactly where it is,” Thompson explains. “We verify physically that it’s there, but now we know exactly where to look. 

“For the audit in June, there was a substantial list of pieces we had to locate. I remember one piece was out at a polling place; we had a worker there take a picture of the piece and its serial number. He signed the photo electronically and sent it to the auditor.” 

Impressive capabilities like these are what will keep Maricopa County reinforcing a trustworthy democratic process. “It’s really important to instill confidence in people that the voting process is secure and that we’re accountable for it,” Thompson says.

He’s right about that.