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Case Study: Utah — Increasing Voter Confidence

February 13, 2019

In the early 2000s, election officials across the country purchased new voting systems thanks to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). At that time, the State of Utah chose to use their HAVA grant dollars to purchase optical scanners and direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines.

Fast forward to over a decade later: vote by mail has become the norm for most counties across Utah. In fact, the majority of registered voters automatically receive a ballot in the mail. While the machines were standing the test of time, the increased popularity of vote by mail was starting to put a lot of pressure on the decade-plus old system that was originally designed for in-precinct voting.

Summit County UT Elections Team

In addition to managing aging voting systems and changes in voting trends, election officials in Utah were facing higher expectations for security and reliability.

The expectation being all voting machines should have the ability to audit and verify that a voter’s ballot was recorded and tabulated in accordance with the voter’s intent.

In the fall of 2017, the State of Utah designated Election Systems & Software (ES&S) as the state’s election management provider of choice. After their extensive assessment of five different election systems providers, the State’s evaluation committee determined that ES&S would provide the best value to the State.

“Through a careful and thorough procurement process, the state of Utah has chosen ES&S to lead Utah into the next generation of voting equipment. ES&S offers a wide range of voting equipment options, and I’m confident their secure and innovative election solutions will fit the needs of each county,” Utah State Lieutenant Governor, Spencer J. Cox said (October 2017)

Through their extensive assessments, the Utah State Evaluation Committee determined:

  1. ES&S’ Electionware election management system provides a more efficient and intuitive process for ballot layout and design, as well as import and export capabilities.
  2. ES&S has a tabulation solution for every Utah county, all of which reduce ballot processing time and provide an efficient process for adjudicating ballots.
  3. ES&S ExpressVote universal voting solution combines paper-based voting with touch-screen technology to meet the needs of voters with disabilities as well as provide a permanent paper record.
  4. ES&S’s longevity, financial stability and reputation position it as the best option to support a roll-out of new equipment in multiple counties in Utah simultaneously, and provide support and maintenance plans at different levels of service and price points.

ES&S Solutions

Easy Equipment Setup

While nearly every registered voter in Utah receives a ballot by mail, registered voters may still vote in-person on or before Election Day. In Utah, accessible voting centers are available for voters with disabilities who need assistance completing their ballot and registered voters who prefer to cast their ballot in person during early voting and on Election Day.

Weber County Elections Director Ryan Cowley was impressed with the set-up process for their new ES&S equipment. “Way, way easy. The poll workers love the easy setup — remove the locks, verify the label and lift the lid. They can focus on making sure the polling place is organized, rather than rushing to get equipment set up. It’s a huge time savings. Polling-place set up is not a big deal anymore, it’s so simple.”

“The ES&S ExpressVotes are just so much easier to use. Before, we were spending hours and hours setting up the equipment on election morning,” Summit County Clerk, Kent Jones said. “On Election Day, we use the ExpressVote as a ballot marker. Voters mark their selections, print their vote summary card and then those cards are tabulated together with the ballots that came in the mail. Everything’s done centrally, so we handle and see everything.”

Fast, Secure Ballot Tabulation

With the move to vote by mail, Utah officials needed to use the optical scan machines to process election results. Utah’s old optical scanners, which were originally purchased to tabulate a small number of absentee ballots, required each ballot be hand fed into the machine.

“For the 2016 presidential election, Davis County mailed out 150,000 ballots and had a total vote turnout of 120,000. We ran all 120,000 ballots by hand through four older optical scanners, one at a time. It was very labor-intensive,” Davis County Elections Manager Brian McKenzie said.

“With the ES&S DS450 we can just put them in a stack and let them run.” With their old optical scanners, Davis County had four staff members counting ballots full time. With their new ES&S DS450, they have one-to-two team members who spend about a fourth of the time counting ballots.

McKenzie said, “We can keep two of the DS450s running with one, one and a half people. As one person, I couldn’t work as fast as the machines.”

Improved Post-Election Auditing and Adjudication

When Utah counties started using DREs in the early 2000s, the state began requiring post-election audits. Typically, the process required a team of three people to audit each machine — one person to read the tape and two people to simultaneously record votes, making sure counts matched throughout. On average, the process took about two hours.

“I have to say that I could not be more pleased with how this (ES&S) system performed and counted the ballots. Being able to compare not only how the system originally counted a ballot, but also how the ballot was adjudicated, back to the digital image of the ballot itself is truly amazing. For the first time in my career, I feel like we have a transparent and auditable system,” Cowley said.

ES&S ExpressVote’s intuitive design offers easy-to-follow instructions for election officials, poll workers and voters — no complicated technology to manage or program. Poll workers can set up and close down the unit in four simple steps, and its small size and light weight make the unit easy to transport and store.

“Compared to our previous system, thanks to auto-adjudication we had far less to look at. We were inspecting every ballot before we ran it through the old optical scan machine. We didn’t do any of that this time – we just ran them through,” Jones said.

“When we (Davis County) did our previous audits, we would only audit the races we were required to. With the new system we figured, the whole ballot is there, let’s just look at everything,” McKenzie said. “We did a full audit of the entire ballot, for all races. It was a more thorough audit, it covered all the races, and it only took two hours. We were just like, ‘wow, it’s so much better.”

Comprehensive Onboarding and Training

Utah’s onboarding process with ES&S was under a compressed timeline. ES&S onboarded 19 counties in 3-4 months.

“We changed everything except for voter registration — every piece of equipment that we used to process ballots was brand new. New accessible machines, new Ballot-on-Demand machines, new precinct tabulators, new central count tabulators, and new adjudication and audit process and procedures,” Cowley said. “Receipt of the equipment and the training was all very timely. The ES&S team worked with about 50 people from 21 counties demonstrating each piece of equipment —leading detailed discussions about the equipment and how we saw it working for us. The team also helped with creating new policies and procedures. We received lot of support up front, and then we’re able to take that and run with it.”

McKenzie said, “Our experience from the beginning up to this point with ES&S has been phenomenal. Starting out, just getting to know the ES&S system went really well, and we were so impressed with the information ES&S could provide, coupled with the general feel of professionalism of the ES&S team. The organization and logistics when we were implementing the new system was really really good, the coordination of taking out the old equipment and bringing in the new equipment, the training, the people who came in and set us up and answered any questions we had, was great.”

“Learning about the new equipment was probably the easiest transition it could have been. There wasn’t a huge learning curve. ES&S simplified everything,” Jones said. “We spent more time teaching the judges about the signature verification process than it took to learn the equipment.”

Customer Service Excellence

ES&S integrates good customer service into every aspect of our business. Our enthusiasm for the work we do and for our customers is unrivaled. ES&S’ team of seasoned election professionals are empowered to think on their feet and work closely with our election administration partners to customize secure and innovative solutions to fit their needs.

Davis County Elections Manager Brian McKenzie said, “The one thing that I would just sing praises to is the customer support – when we’ve had to call in with any type of question, whether it be concerning software or hardware support – the people on the other end of the line were phenomenal. I’ve personally experienced several instances where they have gone above and beyond. There was one time when I called in, it was near end of business day, and they gave me a solution. They made themselves available after their own hours to follow up and make sure we were able to implement the solution. All of them are so good at asking questions to make sure they fully understand the situation, and then they walk you through the process. Never have I felt like I was wasting their time and never are they frustrated. I can’t say enough good things about the customer support. We’ve had really good experiences with everyone from ES&S. If someone has a bad experience with ES&S, you’d hear about it – and we don’t.”

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