This election, more Americans are expected to vote by mail than in any other election cycle in history. And yet, a significant portion of Americans are concerned that this method of voting may not be secure.
A recent poll from the reputable Pew Research Center found that 52% of Americans say that “voter fraud has been a problem when it comes to voting by mail in presidential elections.” Of those surveyed, 25% said voter fraud was a “major problem” with mail-in voting.
To see how the vote-by-mail process works, and whether it is secure, I visited the El Paso County Election Department along with a small group to witness the ballot handling process in action. El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman was kind enough to give a presentation on election security (much of which became this article) and led a tour through the department.
Here is the life of a mail-in ballot.
In Colorado, every active, registered voter receives a ballot in the mail, though each voter still has the option to cast their ballot in person.
After filling out their ballot at home, the voter has the option either to place it back in the mail with an affixed stamp, or to drive it to a secure, 24-hour ballot drop box. There are 37 such boxes throughout Colorado Springs.
The ballot drop boxes are under 24-hour camera surveillance, bolted to the ground and anchored in concrete, and are built with rugged engineering so that even if an incendiary device is tossed in the box, its usually extinguished within a few seconds due to lack of oxygen.
These drop boxes are emptied at least once a day by a bipartisan team of election judges who pick up and then transport the ballots to the Elections Department. Each drop box is closed and secured with a specific tag number, to ensure that it has not been tampered with.
After the ballots have been collected, every ballot is run through an automated machine that reads and verifies the signature on the ballot envelope. If the signature doesn’t match, it is set aside where a bipartisan team of election judges will determine whether or not the ballot should be accepted or not.
If it is determined that the signature doesn’t match, the Election Department notifies the potential voter, who then has a chance to cure their ballot via several different methods, including by text.
After a ballot’s signature is verified, it is then separated from the envelope while maintaining the voter’s secrecy and prepared to be counted.
The above process for El Paso County, Colorado, occurs in the Ft. Carson Operations Center Room at the Elections Department in Colorado Springs.
Photo: Ft. Carson Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Ballots are tabulated using electronic scanners, and the results are stored on a secure server and kept secret from everyone, including the county clerk, until 7 PM on Election Night. The server is maintained on an “Air-gap Network,” which means it is not connected in any way to the worldwide web. This keeps the results safe from hacking.
In El Paso County, Colorado, this tabulation occurs in the Peterson Counting Center Room at the Elections Department.
Prior to actual vote tabulation, the counting machines are tested for quality and accuracy. According to Clerk Broerman, the scanners are only allowed to have one error per 500,000. This year, the county tested 500,000 votes with zero errors. Then they continued testing the machines up to one million votes, then 1.5 million votes and finally two million votes. There were zero errors.
Photo: Peterson Counting Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Every step in the elections process is double checked for quality control, and following the election, the county conducts a risk limiting audit to ensure there were no errors during the election process.
To be sure, each state conducts elections differently, and not every state uses the same practices that El Paso County, Colorado does. Colorado’s voting system is often referred to as the “gold standard.”
And even with such security measures in place, voter fraud does occur. The El Paso County District Attorney Office currently has three cases open against three individuals, all for voting twice in the 2019 general election. But in El Paso County, voter fraud is the exception, not the norm.
So, when you go to vote this year, whether that’s by mail, early in-person, or on Election Day, rest assured that there are good people who are working hard to make sure your vote, and your voice count.
You can follow this author on Twitter @MettlerZachary
Photo from Orlowski Designs LLC / Shutterstock.com
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