With 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agreeing that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election in 2016, and some suggesting that some touch-screen voting machines themselves could be hacked to throw elections into turmoil, machines used in Letcher County appear to be one of the safer models on the market.
Letcher County uses the ES&S iVotronic, a touchscreen machine that allows voters to review and change their ballots before they cast them and leave the booth.
“I’d be crazy to say they couldn’t hack them when they can hack the federal government,” County Clerk Winston Meade said, but he said he’s confident the machine used here is one of the most secure available.
Meade said iVotronics are not connected to the Internet, they’re set to zero before each election, tested, and then reset to zero and sealed. If the seal is broken when poll workers pick it up on Election Day, the machine can’t be used. A cartridge called a Personal Electronic Ballot (PEB) has to be inserted into a machine each time someone votes, and it can’t be activated until the cartridge is in place. Votes are recorded in the machine’s memory, in memory inside the cartridge, and on a cash-register like paper strip inside the machine.
“ They always told us these were one of the safest ones out there,” Meade said.
Joe Bolton of Kentuckiana Election Services, the company that contracts with Letcher County to supply and maintain the machines, said processes in place in Kentucky reduce the chances of problems as well. He said poll workers remove the paper strip from the machines and count votes at each precinct, and then the machines are sealed and the machines and paper strips are sent to the courthouse where the votes are counted again. If there is a question, a flash memory card can be removed from the machine and checked against the total on the paper, and the PEB can be placed in a reader and totals checked again.
According to Unhack the Vote, a nonprofit examining results of the presidential election, the changing votes on an iVotronic would require physical contact with the machine or the PEB. Meade said that’s unlikely because there are four poll workers — two Democrats and two Republicans — at each precinct. Those workers must keep the PEB in their possession at all times.
“They must be fine or they wouldn’t be certified by the state of Kentucky,” Bolton said.
The state of Virginia de- certified the iVotronic and six other Direct Recording Equipment (DRE) voting machines in September. That action was taken based on reports out of the DefCon hackers conference, which obtained voting machines for hackers to examine and attempt to hack during the conference last year.
According to a report from the Virginia Department of Elections, the Virginia Information Technology Agency tested four DRE machines, but did not test the iVotronic. The department decertified all DRE’s after there was no voterverifiable paper trail for any of them. iVotronics can include a paper trail, but the ones in use here do not have that feature. The paper trail appears on the left side of the screen on machines that have it, and voters see how they have voted on a strip of paper protected under plastic. When they finish voting, the paper rolls out of sight.
Some have suggested all voting in the U.S. should be done by paper ballot, while others have suggested allowing online voting. Opponents to paper say it’s been tried before with terrible results. Ballot boxes have been stuffed, sold, used as a receipts for vote buying, and the use of paper ballots in Florida during the 2000 presidential election added a whole new term to the American vocabulary — hanging chads.
Meade said some officials at the state level are considering online voting, but he sees it as too open to fraud, and would only make it easier for those with sinister intentions to hack election results.
“I’m against that, and I don’t care who knows it,” he said. Meade said he’s spent a lot of time looking at voting machines and attending conferences to find out what makes the most sense and leaves the least possibility for problems.
“You can go to jail quicker over an election than you can anything else, and I sure don’t want to go to jail,” Meade said.
Bolton said some companies make machines that allow counting of paper ballots, but he doesn’t trust that method either.
“Just about any place you go, paper ballots are the thing you can mess with,” he said. “In the last Magoffin County judge’s race, he lost by three and then he won by three and it was all in paper ballots.”
The primary election will be held May 22. Voters have until April 23 to register to vote in the primary for the first time. The deadline for voters to change their registration and still vote in the primary has already passed.
Candidates who plan to run in the fall as independents still have until April 2 to file a notice of intent to run.