Voting machines are secure, according to election officials |

Voting machines are secure, according to election officials

Jeff Munson
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune file / Election clerk Michelle Artinian, left, watches voter Tom Elvin submit his ballot electronically last June during the primary elections.

One week before the congressional midterm elections come to a head, news reports from around the country have surfaced about the prospects of voter fraud, ballot tampering, computer hacking and high-tech security or lack of it when it comes to electronic voting.

With congressional races in virtual dead heats in California, Nevada and across the country, voting officials anticipate ballot recounts in many of the close elections.

But a whirl of skepticism has surfaced in recent weeks with some election watchers not ruling out that fraud may have to be factored into next Tuesday’s election. Pundits and officials fear Nov. 7 could turn into something similar to the 2000 presidential election, which was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and not the nationwide majority of voters. Al Gore won the popular election by more than 500,000 votes, it was revealed months after the election.

But El Dorado County election officials say protections have been put into place and voters here are cushioned from the rest of the state and nation, despite its pick of the Diebold electronic voting machine, which has its own history of controversy and its suspicious ties to the GOP and President Bush’s 2004 campaign.

Nevada, on the other hand, picked the Sequoia voting machine, now in the news after a Washoe County voter claimed her vote was not counted in the 2004 general election because of a defective machine. She has sued Washoe County accusing it of negligence and property damage.

Election officials confident

Election officials in El Dorado and Douglas counties, however, insist proper procedures are in place that would make tampering or fraud or hacking non-existent.

There are voters who are concerned but they don’t have to be because there are plenty of safeguards in place to protect votes, said Bill Schultz, El Dorado’s clerk-recorder and elections.

Diebold was unanimously selected about a year and a half ago as the voting system for El Dorado County by an appointed elections committee. It was picked, Schultz said, because it accommodated a paper trail system.

While he can’t speak to other counties, the Diebold voting machines picked for El Dorado County leave a paper ballot trail and because of that, can be hand counted in the event a recount is demanded, Schultz emphasized.

Some California counties chose not to have a paper ballot, Schultz added.

Also the Diebold voting machines are not part of a larger mainframe computer system that links back to some corporate headquarters in Ohio where the system can be hacked or tampered with, Schultz said.

The same holds true for the Sequoia system, said Barbara Reed, clerk for Douglas County. There are no telephone lines that connect the voting machine to the Internet or a mainframe computer.

How the machines work

Voters are assured a paper-based voting in El Dorado County. Voters will be asked to fill in the ovals of their choice, and then they will take the ballot to an optical scan device which essentially takes a picture of the ovals. The paper ballot is placed into locked box and taken to a secured warehouse. Absentee ballots, which are also paper, are given an optical scan through the election department and the ballot is placed in a locked box and taken to the same warehouse.

On the Nevada side, the vote is retained in three different places: On a cartridge, on the voting machine and by a paper transaction. Like El Dorado’s machines, Douglas County’s Sequoia machines are standalone, meaning they are not wired or plugged into any mainframe computer where tampering can happen, Reed said.

“We don’t transfer any of the data over the phone line,” Reed said. “Cartridges are removed from the voting machine and transported to the elections center where they are secured.”

How absentee votes are counted

In El Dorado County, absentee ballots are optically scanned into a voting machine and the ballot is placed into the secure lock box. Counting on the more than 44,000 absentee ballots in the county sent out will begin on Thursday. Results from early voting and absentee ballots will be made available shortly after 8 p.m. next Tuesday.

Douglas County has sent out more than 2,000 absentee ballots and expects about 8,000 voters will have gone to the polls for early voting before next Tuesday. Early votes are retained in the voting machine cartridges and kept in a fire proof vault until election day. The absentee ballots are checked, put in order, sealed and locked in secure area. No one sees the results of the early voting or absentee ballots until election day, Reed said.

If voters have questions or remain concerned about whether their ballots are safe and secure should resort to a mail-in ballot, Reed and Schultz said.

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