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Portage County elections officials say security a top priority

by MIKE SEVER RECORD-COURIER REPORTER Published: September 21, 2016 1:00 AM
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Ravenna -- Everything done by Portage County election workers is done in pairs.

"We're like Noah's Ark. That's how I think of it," said Board of Elections Director Faith Lyon. A Democrat and a Republican work together on anything dealing with the election process, to make sure information and equipment is secure.

Lyon said she is irritated when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says the election is "rigged."

Security is a top concern, said Lyon, a Republican, and Deputy Director Theresa Nielsen, a Democrat. They note all voting equipment and materials -- voting machines, ballots and computer equipment used in compiling results -- are maintained in secure areas.

The ballots, scanning machines and computers are kept behind doors secured with double locks, with one key in the hands of the director and the other with the deputy director.

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Lyon and Nielsen say there are no worries about hackers getting into the county election system, as the FBI reported recently.

"It is freestanding. It is not connected to any other system," Lyon said of the tabulation computer. Reports are generated on a completely separate system.

To generate reports, information is copied onto USB thumb drives from one system and put on the other. The drives are not reused, Lyon said.

That security begins at the very start of the election process. When a voting registration card is received, a "D and R" will verify the information using different sources including Social Security Administration and Bureau of Motor Vehicle records.

If something doesn't match, a letter asking for more information is sent to the voter.

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While much of the attention this year is on the presidential race, accurate precinct registration is critical to local races.

The primary goal of accuracy on voter registration, Nielsen said, is to make sure voters are registered properly in their correct precinct.

"You vote where you live," Nielsen said. That applies to whether the vote is cast in person on Election Day or by absentee ballot.

ABSENTEE BALLOTS

When a voter sends in an application for an absentee ballot, his or her registration information and signature are verified prior to sending a ballot.

Absentee ballots are numbered and registered to track what went out and which were returned to the elections board.

When the ballots are received, election workers again verify that the ballot is the on sent to the voter who signed the return envelope.

"We've never had a discrepancy, ever, even with husbands and wives both voting absentee," Lyon said.

If a voter requests an absentee ballot, that information is noted on the poll books. If such a voter turns up at the polls and insists on voting, they will be given a provisional ballot that will be counted only if the absentee ballot isn't voted.

ELECTION DAY

The security process for ballots begins before Election Day. Ballots are numbered and registered for each of the more than 100 precincts in the county.

The lots are shrink-wrapped and stored under lock and key. When poll workers pick up their materials, the ballots and books are signed for and placed in locked and security tagged bags until the morning of election day, when it is verified the bags are still securely tagged.

The bags are opened in front of the poll workers, who are to check the ballots still shrink-wrapped.

At the polls, there are two bipartisan teams working from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. It takes 524 volunteers to staff the polls in the county, working a very long day.

Voters have to present a valid identification before they get a ballot. There's a long list of what qualifies on the Ohio Secretary of State's website, accessible through the county board's web page.

Throughout the process, the number of ballots and how they are used is verified.

"You can account for what those ballots were used for through the day," Lyon said.

At the end of the day, poll workers do another reconciliation of the ballots before a D and an R return the ballots and other materials to the board office for tabulation.

After Election Day and before final results are certified, there's another comprehensive reconciliation at the board of elections of all ballots.

"We work for another good month ensuring that everything was done properly," Lyon said.

Email: msever@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4154


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