RFID Brings Visibility to Ballots for Elections Board

RFID Brings Visibility to Ballots for Elections Board

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 SystemsGrey 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.

Since 2019’s primary election, the BoE has used the technology in a general election, Wise says, adding that it worked well. In fact, he reports, during the general election, the Grey Trunk system accomplished exactly what he brought it into the elections process to do, as it helped the board locate missing memory cards left in a box on top of a warehouse shelf. “While others were scrambling and looking in empty boxes and throwing them all over the place,” he states, “I scanned boxes that were 5 feet above my head, and I easily found them.”

The Grey Trunk system was designed to break down the barrier of entry for companies looking to track their assets, according to Tyler Johnson, ARK Business Systems’ general manager. “What we found is that a lot of the smaller companies might only have a limited number of assets that they want to track,” Johnson says. “When they [approached] larger integrators, it was really outside their price point.” Therefore, Johnson states, “We wanted to focus on the small to medium-sized businesses with fewer than 10,000 assets.”

The solution consists of Grey Trunk’s cloud-based software and mobile app. Users can begin tracking up to 500 assets at a cost of $49 per month, in addition to the expense of the tags and handheld RFID reader. ARK provides handhelds compatible with Grey Trunk—specifically, Zebra Technologies‘ RFD8500 and Technology Solutions (UK) Ltd. 1128 models. Grey Trunk offers its standard tags, including Metalcraft Universal on-metal tags. Custom RFID tags can also be purchased from MetalCraft.

The Grey Trunk solution was announced in November 2019, but it has been in use by the elections board and other companies for the past year. The solution is being deployed across the United States for tool tracking by rental companies, as well as electric-construction and tree-service businesses, for use in checking assets into and out of a facility. Typically, when trucks go out for the day, a bulk checkout can be accomplished by linking all equipment within a vehicle, and the system then indicates what has left with a specific vehicle and which items have been returned.

The company prices software access on a tiered level, based on the number of assets being tracked. Fewer than 100 tags being tracked is free, while the use of 100 to 500 tags costs $49 a month. Up to 5,000 costs $99, with up to 10,000 priced at $149. “That’s for all features of the software,” Johnson states, “and there is no limit to the number of sub-users.”

Users can set alerts by using the calendar on their dashboard to indicate when maintenance should take place, or when assets should have returned but did not. They can also run reports and request them at a specific frequency, such as daily. For the Stark County Ohio Elections Board, the plan is to use the solution for this November’s election. Moving forward, the board hopes to achieve 100 percent implementation in its supply and ballot box pick-up and drop-off processes.

Swedberg, Claire. “RFID Brings Visibility to Ballots for Elections Board.” RFID Brings Visibility to Ballots for Elections Board – 2020-02-03 – Page 1 – RFID Journal, 3 Feb. 2020, www.rfidjournal.com/articles/view?19187/2.

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