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How the Athens County Board of Elections plans to keep elections secure

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Athens County Board of Elections. File Photo by Morgan McCarthy.

Election security is a hot button issue at the Athens County Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State. With the primary election taking place March 17, both state and county officials have been working tirelessly to enhance security and avoid a mishap like the Iowa caucus

Ensuring vote counts are accurate starts with the way that people vote in Athens County. The county is a “paper county,” meaning every ballot is recorded on paper and counted via a voting machine.

Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said having paper ballots makes recounting easy in the event discrepancies occur. 

Quivey said that the Board has never found a problem they could not track down. She said that the advantages of paper ballots is that it is easy to find where something could be off and if a discrepancy is found officials will hand count paper ballots. She said having paper ballots makes the election very secure. 

The paper ballots are counted and tallied by the DS200 voting machine and stored on a USB drive that is secured as soon as polls close. The USB is then placed in a bag and transported from the precincts to the Boards of Election office on Court Street.

“We have a special bag. They put those voted (paper) ballots in the special bag, and they put a lock on it,” Quivery said. “You got your USB drive in a bag that never goes out of your voting location manager’s sight,” she said.

A voting location manager — also referred to as VLM — is the person who is in charge of overseeing operations at each of the voting locations and overseeing election security throughout the day. VLMs are also responsible for making sure paper ballots and USB drives are transported securely from polling locations to the Board of Elections.

Quivey noted that many things surrounding election night are conducted using a two-party system, meaning that both a Republican and Democrat have to be present. This includes when votes are being transported by the VLM to the board.

“Let’s say your VLM is a Democrat, they have to have a rider back (to the Board of Elections) that is a Republican. They have to ride in the car together,” Quivey said. “We have a check-in team that checks in everything and they have to turn everything in. And if they don’t, they have to go back and get it.”

After the Board of Elections receives the ballots, work starts to tabulate votes for the unofficial results. The process includes taking the USB drives and making sure the totals recorded match the paper ballots.

When all reports have been counted from the voting machines, hard copies of the unofficial results are provided to the media or those present at the Board of Elections. Soon after, the unofficial results are posted on the Athens County Board of Elections’ website.

On the day following Election Day, the Board of Elections begins work on the official results. This includes making sure there are no discrepancies in results and checking provisional ballots, which are used when questions arise about a voter’s eligibility; these votes do not count until the questions of eligibility are resolved.

With provisional ballots, the Board is able to communicate with other Ohio counties to make sure voters are registered and have not submitted ballots in more than one county.

After county totals are completed, they have to then be transmitted to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. Maggie Sheehan, spokesperson for the secretary of state, outlined the process in a statement to The New Political.

Once the results are compiled and tabulated, the Board will export a results file to a single-use, secure USB drive that was provided by our office,” Sheehan wrote. “The results contained on the USB drive are then transferred to a secure computer, provided by the secretary of state, which is used to upload the results to the secretary of state’s election night reporting system through a secure fiber connection.”

As an additional measure to ensure accuracy, a post-election audit will be required in each county after both the 2020 primary and general elections, she wrote.

Sheehan also noted that the Ohio Secretary of State Election Official Manual (EOM) gives specific instructions on how to make sure voting machines are secured. This includes procedures for taking equipment off site and keeping inventory of machines.

In June 2019, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a security directive that all 88 counties had to implement by the end of Jan. 2020.

The security directive outlined measures like annual training for Board of Elections members on both cybersecurity and physical security. The directive also required all permanent Board of Election employees, along with any additional people who perform sensitive services for the Board of Elections, to undergo criminal background checks.

When asked if Ohio could experience any inaccuracies similar to what took place in the Iowa caucuses, Sheehan differentiated between the way caucuses are run versus how primaries are run.

In Iowa, they conducted a caucus run by the Republican and Democratic parties. Here in Ohio, we run an election administered by the Secretary of State. Those are two extremely different processes,” Sheehan’s statement said.

She also noted that unlike in Iowa, where party volunteers are used to run caucuses, Ohio has more than 35,000 trained election officials.

When referring to the election results that are recorded in Ohio, she wrote that it is “a tried and true system to ensure secure and accurate results are provided.”

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