Multiple steps are being taken to ensure the security of the vote in Phelps County. The first step — the county's election equipment is never in communication with the internet, Phelps County Clerk Pamela Grow says.
Vote-tabulating machines are stand-alone. The data on them is read out at the central tabulating facility connected to the multipurpose room at the Phelps County Courthouse.
“The laptop we have has been internet-disabled. We transfer the data to another computer through a means that does not involve wiring or wireless, and then it is posted on the county website,” Grow says.
Recent state law allowed — but did not mandate — a running tabulation of the absentee votes to be kept for the six week absentee voting period. Grow says, “I’m against this and do not do things this way. I do not want a running tally of the votes getting created beforehand; someone surely would want to get their hands on that data especially in a hotly contested or very important election.”
Grow says she’d prefer not to generate that data in the first place, and for that reason, bipartisan absentee teams open the absentee envelopes and they are run through the tabulator, under the eyes of the teams, the evening of the election.
“About all we have ever looked at is the total on the tabulator – do we have the number of ballots we expected, we always have,” Grow says. “This report is the first precinct we report, usually. Many believe that the absentee vote is a pretty good sample of the overall election result, and I don’t want that information being accumulated over a six-week period, for someone to tamper with or use.”
State regulations mandate the random selection of no less than 5 percent of the polling locations as an electronic recount that is run through the tabulator at the courthouse. State regulations also mandate the random selection of no less than 5 percent of the polling locations as a manual recount with Phelps County using a bipartisan team of judges to tally ballots by hand, on paper, Grow says.
Phelps County has 20 precincts, 19 in the county and one absentee. 5 percent of the polling locations is one precinct. This is where an innocent bystander comes in, Grow says.
“We put numbers one through 20 in a bowl and you draw one for the electronic and one for the manual. Sometimes we get a small precinct to recount manually; sometimes not.” Grow says.
In November 2016 Grow recalls Rolla Ward 3 was drawn for the manual recount.
“That year there were oodles of types of races laid out, also in the state regulation, such as one judicial race, one state legislative race, and so on, with about 1,400 ballots to recount,” she says. “The judges and I were there until 4:30 the next morning. So I really sweat over that.”
Grow says she has always found the recounts very reassuring, and all documents for electronic and machine recounts have to be submitted to the Secretary of State with the election certification. Everything is signed by the bipartisan judge team and Grow.
“I do not use electronic poll books, the electronic poll books can communicate with each other when you are using two or more in a precinct, wirelessly, and I feel this is a security risk for the election in terms of the voter roll – who is, and who isn’t registered,” Grow says.
Grow raises the notion: Would a wireless device in or near the polling place perhaps reach in and alter the voter rolls in some way? The possibility is enough for Grow, who says a paper poll book printed a few days prior to the election is more tamper-proof, and besides that, there is the issue of the electronic signature.
It’s very hard, Grow says, to compare an electronic signature to one done on paper.
“How on earth are we expected to validate initiative and referendum signatures done on a clipboard in front of the big box store, when compared to an electronic signature from an online registration?” Grow notes. “Paper poll books are kind of like paper medical charts: the spy would have to physically break into the medical office to snoop.”