Dan English, Former Longterm Kootenai County Clerk, writes. . . . As a new clerk in 1995, I accepted the decision of the previous clerk to migrate from a punch card to an optical scan voting system. My staff and I faced an all-too-familiar dilemma of the need to purchase new equipment. The vendor suggested we could just use our votomatics by changing out the portion where the punch mechanism went and converting that to a flat surface. That was a bit easier said than done, but we did it. And we ended up with the same number of voting booths--rather heavy, clunky aluminum suitcase voting machines--that the poll workers had to set up, often with legs falling off, and usually needing help to carry them around.
At this time, our county was experiencing a lot of growth that resulted in huge bottlenecks at some of our precincts, as there were simply not enough of the converted votomatics to go around. As you would expect, voters were quite unhappy about the unreasonable amount of time waiting in line.
I considered buying more votomatics, but even reconditioned models cost from $200-$300 per unit. It seemed like there had to be a better way. I researched what was available and found a few other tabletop models that appeared to be regular booths without the legs. I really liked the concept of tabletop voting, and thought a particularly nice benefit would be to allow voters, especially the elderly, to sit while they voted. As an added bonus, we recognized that all of our regular polling sites had a ready supply of tables and chairs that would accommodate our set up needs.
So I brainstormed with my election staff to come up with a solution that would be simple, inexpensive, lightweight and easy to use. I came up with a design utilizing two-sided 1/2" Melamine (common computer table material) for the platform and lightweight corrugated plastic sides for the privacy shields. And I created a tote bag for individually transporting and storing the voting booths. A bright and colorful logo of a ballot box was designed incorporating the Election Center motto "Gatekeepers of Democracy" on the front of the tote bag.
Initially I made a few hundred of the new tabletop voting booths and put them out at precincts along with the regular votomatics. I hoped to see what the poll workers and voters thought, while still giving them the option to use the more familiar equipment. At the next cycle we had workers wanting more of the tabletops and suggesting we forget the old booths. I had enough booths made to provide about one per 100 registered voters. I have found that by having ample supplies of these booths, we can immediately provide additional booths when needed. Our long lines have largely gone away and people seem very happy with the experience of sitting down to vote. My election workers feel that tabletop booths have been a great success for our county. I thought we might need to have some extra lighting on them, but due to the all-white reflecting surfaces of the base and sides we havent had to supplement the existing light in the polling place. We have now had over 150,000 votes cast using these booths.
I discovered additional benefits of our tabletop booths. They take up much less storage space compared to the votomatics or even other tabletop models we've seen. Our county has saved a great deal of money for delivery expenses per election cycle. In most cases, the poll workers can put them in their cars for delivery to and from the polling sites.
In the five years these booths have been in use, my election workers have encouraged me to market them so others can benefit. Making the leap from elected official to small business entrepreneur hasn't been too difficult once the time was right.
The design of each booth has been refined, taking the best of what has evolved over five years of use. Craftsmen and other quality vendors in our area have been selected to participate, providing greater benefit to our local economy. Our family members share in providing an excellent product to make investment in our community, our democracy, and our future.
Dan's Background Dan English, originator of Tote-a-Vote, was the current elected Clerk-Auditor for Kootenai County, Idaho from 1995 to early 2011. Prior to that time, Dan served for seven years as a City Councilman for the City of Coeur d'Alene and as a Trustee for the Coeur d'Alene School Board.
Dan is very involved in the Elections community and has been recognized by his peers for his experience and leadership. He is a past President for the Idaho Association of County Recorders and Clerks and was appointed to serve on the Idaho Secretary of State's Special Task Force on Elections and Voting Systems. He was the local elected officials representative for the state of Idaho on the EAC National Standards Board for several years. Dan received his certification as Certified Elections/Registration Administrator(CERA) from the Election Center in 2003.
Dan was born and raised in Coeur d'Aene and holds a Master Degree in Counseling Psychology from Gonzaga University and a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice Administration from San Jose State University. He is the founder and former Executive Director of two local long-standing successful non-profit organizations, North Idaho Youth for Christ and Anchor House, a residential treatment center for troubled teens. Dan is currently the Executive Director of North Idaho CASA.