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Loudoun County, Virginia is a suburb of Washington, D.C. It’s home to the famous Catoctin Creek Distillery and Dulles International Airport. The County has 213,000 registered voters, 85 precincts, and 3 absentee voting locations. The Loudoun County election office manages over 800 poll workers every election.
And on election night, poll workers use Kindle tablets to report unofficial results to the election office. It’s called the Kindle Project, and Loudoun County received an Election Center Professional Practices Program award for the project in August 2014.
Speed and accuracy on election night
Election night is a total thrill ride. Months of hard work are realized and unofficial results are tabulated -- sometimes under a hot media spotlight. Increasingly, people expect election results immediately after the polls close. On election night poll workers hustle to clean polling places, pack up equipment, and reconcile ballots. They do all of this at the end of a 14-hour work day.
In November 2013, Loudoun County launched the Kindle Project to help poll workers calculate and report unofficial results on election night.
The Kindle project
Loudoun County purchased 100 Kindle Fire HD tablets in 2013. Before every election, staff loads each tablet with documents, which are viewable and searchable without an internet connection. Documents include:
- Emergency procedures
- Virginia election code book
- Chief Election Officer guide book
The tablets are configured to block all internet browsing, including social media. Poll workers use wireless internet connections in each polling place to connect to a Google spreadsheet. The spreadsheet and internet network are set up by election staff prior to Election Day.
The spreadsheet is customized for each polling place. It includes the races and candidates that voters are eligible to vote for in that particular precinct. The spreadsheet also includes basic formulas that automatically calculate totals in a certain column or row.
At the close of the polls, poll workers print the election results tape from the voting machine. They enter the preliminary results from the paper tape into the Google spreadsheet. While Google spreadsheets are similar to Excel spreadsheets in some ways, like sorting functionality and formulas, Google spreadsheets offer one major bonus: they share updates with collaborators in real time.
Poll workers update their spreadsheets with preliminary results while staff at the election office can see what they’ve entered, quickly review the numbers, and then release the preliminary results to the public.
Before the Kindle Project, Loudoun County poll workers printed the results tape from the voting machine and reported the unofficial results to the election office via telephone, sometimes after being on hold for up to 30 minutes or more, depending on the number of races and ballots styles. Poll workers say the tablet and Google spreadsheet improve their closing process by making it both easier and faster. And when poll workers get to go home 30 minutes earlier, everyone is happy.
Updates throughout Election Day
Not only are poll workers pleased with the project, the election staff, media, political parties, and the general public enjoy getting quicker preliminary results on election night, too.
In addition to unofficial election results, the Google spreadsheet includes a place for poll workers to enter the number of voters at designated times throughout the day. For example, each polling place records the number of voters at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. Because the numbers are entered into the Google spreadsheet, election staff can see voter turnout at each polling place throughout Election Day.
Campaigns, political parties, and the media are able to quickly get the turnout numbers from every polling place by simply contacting the Loudoun County election office.
Loudoun County is considering new tablets for their polling places. Older tablets could be used for voter registration or shared with other county government departments. They are also exploring the option of adding Google Chat to their spreadsheets. Google Chat, similar to instant messaging, would allow election staff to communicate instantly with poll workers using the tablet and cut down on phone calls to the election office.
Want to learn more about the award that Loudoun County won? Visit the Election Center website to read about the Election Center Professional Practices Program.
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