Local boards of elections officials expect to see a big upswing Tuesday in the number of electronic mobile devices in voting booths as voters turn to their smartphones and tablet computers for information on Election Day.
Ohio law allows voters to use tablets or smartphones in polling places, said Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“You could go in with your phone and use that if you have a slate card or a list of how you want to vote,” McClellan said.
Election officials in Montgomery, Greene, Warren, Clark and Butler counties said they will allow the use of smartphone and tablet slate cards in the voting booth, with some limitations. Voters will be asked to silence their cell phones, and will be prohibited from using them for telephone conversations or taking photographs at polling locations.
“You want an informed voter,” said Llyn McCoy, Greene County Board of Elections deputy director. “If this is how they are getting their information and they are taking it in so they vote the way they want to, I think it is a great thing.”
Darke County election officials plan to post signs prohibiting the use of all cell phones at polling locations, said Becky Martin, Board of Elections director.
“Until Husted tells us that we can let them use the smartphones, we are going to stay with our previous no-cell phones-allowed (policy), because that is what we’ve been told in the past,” Martin said.
Husted’s office on Monday issued a directive prohibiting election observers from using electronic or communication devices within the polling place in a manner that interferes with an election or intimidates a voter. However, that directive doesn’t address the use of smartphones or tablets by voters.
“Local boards of elections may have a policy in place with restrictions and our office would encourage voters to double-check with poll workers,” McClellan said.
The use of smartphones and tablet computers has exploded in the years since the 2008 presidential election. Nearly 90 percent of registered U.S. voters own a cell phone, and roughly half of that number have a smartphone, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last month.
Democrat, Republican and independent voters are all equally likely to own a cell phone or smartphone, or to use text messaging and mobile applications, according to the survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults conducted in September.
A significant number of Americans are using their mobile devices to get information about this year’s election, the study said.
Voters are using their mobile devices to get immediate campaign news and polling numbers, discuss political issues on social media sites, and fact-check candidates’ statements in real time.
“That is what people today want with their technology, is the ability to pull information and to engage in conversation here and now,” said Laura Merritt, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman.
Many people are using smartphones as their primary tool for gathering information, said Dan Birdsong, a lecturer in the University of Dayton’s political science department, and campaigns are using the technology to connect with voters.
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama announced Joe Biden as his running mate via email and text messages to his supporters. “This year (Mitt) Romney had an app that you could get to get the early word on who his vice presidential selection was going to be,” Birdsong said.
Campaigns are using mobile apps to send targeted voter information, including slate cards. “It transfers the medium from the old paper style to an electronic version,” Birdsong said.
Young people in particular are using mobile devices to follow the election. Nearly 75 percent of U.S. adults ages 25-34 own a smartphone, according to a September report by the market research company Nielsen.
“This is primarily how that particular segment is getting their information,” Merritt said.
Anne Koppen, a University of Cincinnati student from Springboro, is using her smartphone to follow the election.
Koppen, 22, said she has used her mobile device to watch streaming video of the candidates’ speeches in their entirety. She also used it as a “second screen” during the recent presidential debates to see what people were writing about the candidates’ statements on Twitter.
“In the last election I wasn’t as connected,” Koppen said. “I definitely feel more connected.”
Political polling also is feeling the impact of cell phones, which present a challenge for the industry, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Response rates are lower for cell phone-only households, and people who don’t have unlimited mobile plans may be less inclined to speak with a pollster because it costs them money, Brown said.
A growing number of adults have chosen to drop their landlines in favor of wireless phones. As of the second half of 2011, 34 percent of U.S. households had only wireless phones, according to a study released in October by the National Center for Health Statistics.
An estimated 33 percent of Ohio adults lived in a wireless-only household in 2011, the study said.
“It is hard to argue that a poll is a random sampling of the population if you don’t call cell phones,” Brown said.
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