In the disarray and distrust inspired by alleged voting irregularities in Georgia, it stands that the hallmarks of a trustworthy vote-counting process should be revisited.
The Tennessee Star contacted the elections officials from a range of the most populated counties in the state to gain insider perspective and knowledge. However, several of the officials refused to offer comment, and the remainder didn’t respond by press time.
The basic, key components to proper vote-counting reflect multiple levels of checks and balances. Trustworthy vote-counting includes bipartisan representation; a hierarchy of supervisors, workers, and challengers; sealed ballot or memory stick boxes; and ballot machines secured both electronically and physically.
According to several seasoned poll workers and officials, the general standards for vote-counting encompass the following methods:
Digital ballots are either transmitted automatically from the voter to the counting facility or stored on memory sticks or hard drives.
Mail-in ballots are observed in the presence of multiple poll workers or challengers. A pre-check consists of workers checking the ballot while closed. At that stage, workers ensure that the voter is registered, has only voted once, and that both the ballot signature and address matches the signature on file.
Once a worker removes the ballot from the envelope, they check for substances or markings that might interfere with the ballot machine’s scanners. The opened ballots are then placed in batches corresponding with the time received. Every ballot is scanned and stored onto memory sticks. Once full, the memory sticks are removed from the machine and transported to tabulation servers. A select few individuals have access to the room with the servers.
Workers don’t review the results until the polls close. Once the tabulation server has a complete report of votes, a new memory stick receives the report and is taken to the election director’s office. At that point, the director uploads the memory stick into the state election reporting system.
Every state differs on its laws regarding the amount of poll watchers and challengers, as well as the level of bipartisanship required.
In Georgia, poll watchers must wear badges to identify themselves. Each precinct may have up to two poll watchers from each political party, and nonpartisan or independent candidates may appoint one. Additionally, candidates can’t serve as poll watchers.
As for counting votes, Georgia law requires that superintendents only allow certain individuals they’ve deputized to touch any ballots, containers, papers, or machines involved. The process is required to be made visible to the public.
Ballot containers must have unbroken seals when received and remain separate from differing polling places. The superintendent must note damaged, spoiled or invalid, and unused ballots in a report after all votes are counted, and save those ballots in a container.
Duplicate ballot copies are permissible for defective ballots, so long as it is prepared by the corresponding election official of the same polling place. Ultimately, tabulating machines print the report of vote totals.
As for absentee and mail-in ballots, Georgia law requires that the worker must write the date and time they received the ballot on the envelope. Verifications of signatures, addresses, and registration all align with general standards for vote-counting. Counting these ballots may only start at 7:00 am on Election Day. Any rejected absentee voters must be recorded onto three copies of a list and given to the poll manager.
Challenged ballots must be marked as “challenged,” and set aside for counting and review. Additionally, officials must notify the voter that their ballot was challenged.
Any voter that fails to sign, presents an invalid signature, is ineligible to vote, or can’t provide all verifiable, consistent information as required by law must have their ballot rejected.
As for ballot machines – these must arrive to precincts with multiple security seals to indicate no tampering occurred. One controversial component that these machines may include is a modem allowing internet access.
The ballot machine software used in every Georgia county and 28 other states, Democracy 5.5A by Dominion Voting Systems (Dominion), sparked controversy over that component last week. The system presented glitches that deleted, misplaced, delayed, or swapped votes. Additional controversy ensued after it was discovered that Texas rejected the system for faulty security. Specifically, Democracy 5.5A was accessible to the Internet through Ethernet ports.
The top three voting manufacturing companies – Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Dominion, and Hart InterCivic – admitted to installing internet modems in tabulators and scanners. These companies assured the National Election Defense Coalition (NEDC) that these measures were completely safe, and their purpose was to relay unofficial election results to the public more quickly.
However, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and independent cybersecurity experts stated the opposite: voting systems that come online at any point are vulnerable to hackers in that and future elections.
“Once a hacker starts talking to the voting machine through the modem, the hacker cannot just change these unofficial election results, they can hack the software in the voting machine and make it cheat in future elections,” stated Dr. Andrew Appel to NBC News, a computer science and security professor at Princeton University.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defended the overall integrity of vote-counting across the state as recently as Monday. Raffensperger indicated that ongoing investigations won’t have an impact on voter totals.
Georgia law states that any vote totals with a difference of less than one-half of one percent qualifies for a recount of that election, if the losing party issues a written request to do so within two business days following the certified election results.
As it stands prior to the outcomes from legal challenges, Democratic candidate Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by less than half a point.
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