A steady stream of voters flowed through the Barton County clerk’s second-floor courthouse office Wednesday afternoon. They stood at the black machines casting their advance ballots ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.
These machines, specifically their safety, have many worried as this campaign season turned divisive with claims of voter fraud and election rigging.
“I know there is a lot of concern about the security of the election machines,” said County Clerk Donna Zimmerman, who also serves as the county election officer. “We take it very seriously.”
She’s glad she works in a rural area where folks are more understanding and less apt to break the rules. “People here don’t want to defraud the system,” she said.
Even so, “we are on alert,” Zimmerman said. Her office and election offices around the country received a letter from the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation saying the agency is watching for vote tampering.
What is being done?
According to Zimmerman, her offices goes through great lengths to assure election accuracy. There is a multi-layer system in place that has been in place for years and has served the county well.
Last week, her staff rolled the voting machines into the rotunda outside of her office. This was done after hours so there was no chance of outside interference.
“We test every machine we have before it goes out (to polling places) and when it comes back,” she said. The officials want to make sure the devices tabulated properly to start with and when the voting finished.
Also, unlike in other areas of the country, these machines are not wirelessly connected to any other system, nor are they hooked to the internet or other computer network. “We take great pains to keep them isolated from everything else,” Zimmerman said.
In addition, the personal electronic ballots (PEBs) that plug into the voting devices to activate a voter’s ballot, memory cards and other equipment are all kept under lock and key, behind sealed doors until used. “We’re very careful,” the clerk said.
Scanners and laptop computers work offline and are tested as well. Passwords are also required.
She sends the local results to the Kansas Secretary of State Office via its highly encrypted web portal. A hardcopy is also sent so the votes can be verified.
Furthermore, she said all poll workers must be trained. In addition to checking photo IDs and marking the voters off in the registry, they must also patrol the polling station to make sure no one is wearing shirts, hats or other paraphernalia supporting a particular candidate or ballot question so there is no undue voter influence.
“We want this to be as open of a process as possible,” Zimmerman said. Anyone with questions or concerns is welcome to contact her at her office,620-793-1835.
What the future holds
The county’s fleet of voting machines is showing its age and come next year, there may be discussions about starting to replace them. “They’ve met their shelf life,” Zimmerman said.
The Barton County Election Office put its 89 iVotronics machines (which cost about $2,500 each for a total of about $300,000) into service in 2006. However, there were Help America Vote Act Endowment funds at that time which covered 90 percent of the county’s costs.
A replacement system would cost as much, if not more. But, there would be no federal funds to help pay for it, she said.
For now, the iVotronics stations continue to plug along. Although out of production, they are still supported by the manufacturer.
However, when the change comes, it could mean a transition back to some form of paper ballots, she said.