As you may have noticed, the Presidential election cycle and all its trappings and consternation are upon us. Here at the Shelby County Board of Elections we have been preparing for the Nov. 8 general election for months. Training precinct election officials, perfecting issue language and eligible candidates to be elevated to the ballot, programming ballot readers, processing absentee ballot applications, allocating resources and most importantly answering voter questions are just some of the activities necessary to conduct an election. On behalf of my fellow Board of Election members and staff I’ll be writing a number of columns through the general election period and beyond to give the public an update of what’s happening at their Board of Elections and why. We believe it’s important to timely answer some of the most pressing questions most often asked by the public.
Right now we are knee deep in absentee voting. All Ohio voters whose registration information is up-to-date have the opportunity to vote in any election from the convenience of their own homes by requesting an absentee ballot. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted mailed absentee ballot applications to voters statewide in early September. A voter can vote early, it is convenient, it reduces the chance of lines at the polls on Election Day, and absentee ballots are the first votes counted on election night. Voters need only fill out and return the application and their absentee ballot will be mailed to them. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Nov. 5 at noon (three days before the General Election), but voters can submit their application any time. In addition, all registered voters may request and vote an absentee ballot in person at the Shelby County Board of Elections through 2 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7, the day before the Nov. 8 general election. I’ll talk more about how absentee ballots are secured, processed and counted in a future column. But for now voters can be assured their sealed envelopes containing their voted ballots are secure and those votes will remain secure until they are counted ‘first thing’ after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on election night.
So let’s get down to this column’s timely topic. Certainly voters have been inundated with national media attention about voter information ‘hacking’ from outside sources attempting to gain internet access to voter registration rolls and more. What’s important here is to separate the issues related to 1) a voter’s registration information, and 2) a voter’s individual secret ballot including their private votes.
In Ohio, every Board of Election uses a computerized voter registration database which is linked directly to the State of Ohio’s Voter Registration system. That database records a voter’s registration information including social security number and driver’s license if applicable. Also included are a voters last known address and voting history. Voting history is the “fact” of voting, not how a person voted. There is no way to know how a person voted and certainly that information is not recorded in hard copy much less electronically. Let me state that again. This database does not contain “how” a person voted on Election Day or anytime in the past. Could this voter information database be compromised by unscrupulous hackers or even foreign governments? To be candid, it is possible. Since these reports of cyber attacks on State election databases across the United States have surfaced, the State of Ohio and Shelby County have been coordinating with the United States Department of Homeland Security to ensure the best database management and security practices are in place.
Now, let’s look at what we believe to be the real concern locally. That is securing individual and tabulated votes and protecting them from electronic internet mischief. In Shelby County we believe and rely on the integrity and accountability of a paper ballot system. In Shelby County each voter is given an old fashion piece of paper along with an old fashion ink pen to exercise their constitutional voting privilege. Once a person votes by darkening a particular oval of their choice they place their secret ballot into a scanner which has been programmed to read, but not tabulate, the voter’s secret selections. Those selections are written to a memory card within the scanner. These scanners are not hooked to or ever communicate with the internet. After the polls close on Election Day the memory card is closed out, pulled from the scanner and a team of two precinct election officials, one from each major political party, physically drive both the memory card and the hard copy voted ballots to the Board of Elections office. No data is ever transmitted electronically. Once at the Board of Elections office, each memory card is loaded by a team of two elections officials, one from each major party, into a secure tabulating computer. This computer is a standalone system and is not attached to the internet nor does it send or receive vote information electronically. Once all the memory cards are received and read from each of the 35 Shelby County precincts, unofficial results are printed and made available to the public.
As you can see, in Shelby County there is no chance for votes or tabulation to be “hacked” through the internet because the votes are never exposed to the “web.” Just for argument though, let’s say that some electronic malfunction or even some shenanigan did occur. We still have those good ol’ paper ballots which be hand count in public session. Thank goodness for our Shelby County system of paper back up.
Next time we’ll talk about what a person can expect when they arrive at the polls on Election Day. As always, voters can visit our website at http://co.shelby.oh.us/board-of-elections for contact and additional information.
The writer is the chairperson of the Shelby County Board of Elections and serves with members Merrill Asher, Jon Baker and Chuck Craynon.