Ohio election experts and voting rights advocates are unified so far in one message to voters this election season: vote and be confident that the ballots will be counted accurately and will be safe from hackers.
Many local voters will use new voting machines for the first time. But the voting officials say their preparations and Ohio’s built-in bipartisan election oversight makes the most-likely outcome from this year’s election is a safe and accurate count.
“It’s very safe," said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. "It’s all the same redundancies that we’ve had in place: It’s not connected to the internet; you have a physical piece of paper that we use for auditing functions; voters can verify their ballots. The machines are always kept under double lock and key.”
“We’ve worked really really hard to make sure from a cyber-perspective we are protected from any kind of assault," Ockerman said.
In addition, said Ockerman, Ohio’s “ultimate safeguard" for election integrity is that the state’s elections are administered by bipartisan teams “so there’s no partisan advantage that exists in other states.”
Ohio boards are allowed to process absentee ballots before Election Day - verify the ballot was requested, open them and prepare the paper ballots for counting on Election night. Officials said that speeds up the counting process for the unofficial count that is announced once Election Day counting is done. Absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by the board by Nov. 13 will also be counted and, along with valid provisional ballots, included in final, official results. The bipartisan board of elections considers any questions arising from those absentee and provisional ballots after the election.
“Employees at local boards work in teams from each party, with oversight from a bipartisan board of elections. These workers are dedicated professionals," " said Susan Hesselgesser, executive director of the League of Voters of the Greater Dayton Area. " I believe Ohio voters can vote with confidence and trust their votes will be counted."
Most counties in the state have new voting systems, purchased using state and local money last year and all of the systems meet federal and state security requirements.
Five election system companies are certified in the state, which approved three basic types of voting equipment: electronic touchscreen voting machines, paper ballot equipment and hybrid electronic touchscreen/paper ballot systems.
All three types include either paper ballots or a voter-verified paper trail. That provides a paper backup for results uploaded electronically when votes are tallied and sent to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office using a secure connection.
All three types are used in the nine-county Dayton region. Montgomery and Darke counties are among 27 statewide using the electronic/paper hybrids. The machines used are manufactured by Omaha-based Election Systems & Software and involve giving voters a ballot, which is placed inside the electronic touchscreen machine. The voter uses the touchscreen to mark the ballot and can verify choices before finalizing the paper ballot. The voter then scans the ballot into a locked scanning machine that electronically records the votes and secures the paper ballot.
Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jan Kelly said the machine’s performance during early voting has been “exemplary."
“In the rare case when the ballot scanner cannot read the voted ballot, it is rejected from the scanner and the precinct election official will assist the voter to place the ballot in the scanner again or try another scanner,” Kelly said. “If it still does not read the ballot, the voter would be re-issued another ballot to vote."
Ellis Jacobs, of the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition, said he was very pleased with the open process the county used in settling on the new machines.
“As near as I can tell the type of machines they chose is the state of the art, most secure set of machines out there,” said Jacobs, who is also senior attorney at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in Dayton.
Greene and Butler counties both use Dominion Voting Systems' electronic touchscreen voting machine, which includes paper that scrolls inside the machine, allowing voters to see that their votes are accurately recorded. Fourteen Ohio counties uses touchscreen machines.
“They’ve been great,” said Eric Corbin, deputy director of the Butler County Board of Elections. “It was a big step forward from what we had. It got rid of some of the issues that we had with the old system we had that were due to the age of them.”
The remaining 47 counties in Ohio use paper ballots hand-marked by the voter and scanned. Preble County uses an ES&S model and Clark, Champaign, Miami and Warren counties use a paper system manufactured by Clear Ballot.
“I am confident in the security of the process that Clark County has, not only with the machines but everything else that goes into the election," said Jason Baker, director of the Clark County Board of Elections.
Officials at Dominion, ES&S and Clear Ballot Group said the companies rely on layers of security to protect the integrity of voting systems. Among them: they cannot be connected to the internet and they have locks and tamper-evident seals, audit logs, encryption of data, limits on voting software the machine will accept and other security measures. They said the voting systems are tested by federally accredited independent labs.
“Regarding voting system security, ES&S takes many steps to ensure our systems are secure, accurate and accessible," said Katina Granger, spokeswoman for Omaha-based Election Systems & Software.
“Voters can be confident in the ability of all certified Dominion systems to provide for safe, accurate and reliable elections, knowing that they have successfully undergone a formal testing and approval process for government certification and use,” said Kay Stimson, Dominion’s vice president for government affairs. “Additionally, all product platforms allow for simple and transparent auditing.”
“The best way to ensure safe and secure elections is to offer voting solutions that are transparent and auditable," said Hillary Lincoln, vice president of marketing and communications for Boston-based Clear Ballot. “That’s why Clear Ballot is constantly innovating and producing technology that supports secure, transparent, accessible, and auditable elections.”
Ahead of elections the boards run logic and accuracy testing of all voting equipment that will be used in the election, Ockerman said.
Boards also were required to follow Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s 2020 Election Security & Accessibility Directive, which “details how counties must utilize federal dollars to strengthen their election security in preparation for the upcoming general election, including cybersecurity updates,” said Maggie Sheehan, press secretary for LaRose.
She said voters can be “completely confident” that the the votes cast on their county’s voting equipment will be counted.
“Ohio’s machines are certified by both federal and state authorities, and they are never connected to the internet. Results are first determined in an unofficial count, then the official canvass begins 11 days after the election where bipartisan teams will work to review outstanding absentee and provisional ballots,” Sheehan said. “Once the canvass is complete, our office completes our own review before the results are certified. Additionally, a post-election audit will be conducted to ensure every ballot was properly counted. If any issues arise during that audit, results may be amended.”
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