Here’s how the city of Madison clerk is keeping ballots secure

Emilee Geist

MADISON (WKOW) — Wisconsin election officials undergo an extensive series of tests and security measures to make sure the vote total on Election Day is accurate and not tampered with.

In a news release Monday, the City of Madison Clerk’s Office outlined its security procedures ahead of the election.

The precautions taken involve the City of Madison Clerk’s Office, the Dane County Clerk’s Office, and the officials at your polling place on Election Day.

From the city of Madison Clerk’s Office news release:

The City of Madison has a paper-based voting system with a paper trail.

The Dane County Clerk’s Office designs the ballots and programs their own election equipment. Programing is never outsourced.

The County Clerk programs the memory devices for Election Day using a computer in the County Clerk’s Office. This standalone computer is in a locked, secured room and is only used for ballot design and election coding.

Ballots are printed from a static PDF file. The clerk’s election equipment uses optical scan technology to count votes. It is the same type of technology used for standardized tests. Every oval connected to a candidate on the ballot and every ballot style is reviewed and verified before the ballots are printed.

The County Clerk programs memory sticks that will allow voters to mark ballot cards using the ExpressVote, and programs memory sticks that will allow the tabulators to count ballots. The memory sticks are digitally signed for each election. Every tabulator and ExpressVote requires a separate authentication step before it can read an election-specific memory stick.

The County Clerk marks and tests thousands of ballots and ExpressVote ballot cards. This pre-test takes several days and includes a test of the modeming process.

Every memory stick that will be used on Election Day and during absentee voting is included in this test. The County Clerk assumes there is a problem to find.

Every ballot style and memory stick is tested to make sure the equipment will accurately mark and tally votes, recognize blank ballots, notify the voter of over-votes or cross-over votes, and appropriately handle stray marks on the ballot.

After the pre-test, the County Clerk seals the memory sticks in security bags with tamper-evident seals and hand delivers them to municipal clerks.

Municipalities independently develop plans for testing both the County Clerk’s programming and the municipal election equipment at the public test of election equipment.

State law requires that this test – which is open to the public – be held within ten days of the election.

Prior to Election Day, the City Clerk’s Office tests the County Clerk’s programming at the public test of election equipment.

The City Clerk’s Office verifies that the ExpressVotes will accurately mark ballots, and that the DS200 tabulators will accurately count votes on Election Day. The public is welcome to watch the public test.

The DS200 tabulator used by the City of Madison is a single-purpose voting device. Once programming is installed, it is not possible for a separate device to overwrite that programming. The security passwords for their tabulators cannot be bypassed or deactivated.

Once City Clerk’s Office completes the test of each tabulator for proper vote tabulation, they secure each machine with tamper-evident seals bearing unique serial numbers. The programed memory stick in each machine cannot be accessed without breaking the tamper-evident seal. Likewise, ballots cannot be accessed without breaking a tamper-evident seal.

The City Clerk’s Office documents the serial numbers of the seals used on each tabulator and ballot cart. On election morning, election officials verify that these seals have not been broken, and that the serial numbers on these seals match the serial numbers documented by the City Clerk’s Office.

When the tabulator is plugged in on election morning, it will print a report showing how many votes are counted. The election officials at each polling location verify that they are starting Election Day with zero votes counted. They compare the number of voters checked into the poll book to the number of ballots counted by the tabulator (the number of ballots counted is displayed on the tabulator screen) on at least an hourly basis throughout Election Day, and again as they close the polls.

Anyone but a candidate on the ballot can sign in as an observer and watch what is happening at the polling place on Election Day. Anyone, including candidates, may observe as poll workers close the polls.

When closing the polls, the poll workers check one more time to verify that the number of voters matches the number of ballots cast. If there is any discrepancy, they need to resolve the discrepancy before running the election results.

Poll workers print the results on paper and announce those results to everyone at the polling place. Only after printing the results tape are they able to send the unofficial results to the County Clerk via modem.

The results on the DS200 memory stick use a double encryption procedure. Election results are printed on paper before they are transmitted to the County Clerk’s Office.

The modem used to transmit results to the County Clerk is not capable of establishing a connection it did not initiate. The modem can only dial out, and is programmed to only connect to the County Clerk’s Office.

The unofficial results from each polling place are encrypted, using a private key and digital signature. The unofficial results sent by modem are delivered to a computer that is separate from the computer used to design ballots and program election equipment. The data communications server sits behind a firewall. The Dane County Clerk follows the best practice of only powering on the server when testing election equipment prior to Election Day and when accepting unofficial results via modem on election night.

Dane County polling places have a paper trail for every vote. Election officials seal the ballots in bags with tamper-evident seals. Each ballot bag has a unique serial number, which the election officials document for the City Clerk and the County Clerk.

On election night, election officials seal the memory stick from the tabulator in a transport bag with a tamper-evident seal, document that seal number, and hand-deliver that transport bag to the City Clerk’s Office. The City Clerk hand-delivers these sealed transport bags to the County Clerk on election night. The County Clerk’s Office uploads the polling place election results from each memory stick.

Election results are not official until certified by the Board of Canvassers.

After every election, the Dane County Clerk randomly selects wards to audit. Auditors count the ballots for those wards by hand to verify the results from election night. Once election results have been certified, the Dane County Clerk puts all ballot images online, allowing voters to independently conduct their own audits.

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