Government and Technology

GR officials test voting equipment

New encrypted cellular modem will transmit results to city, county and state.

October 12, 2018
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As November draws near, election officials in the city of Grand Rapids are in the process of testing its voting equipment to ensure the accuracy and the security of the 2018 midterms.

City officials are testing the voting equipment, which includes optical-scan ballot tabulators, accessible voting devices for voters with disabilities, as well as election-management and reporting software.

Grand Rapids used the machines in city elections last year and in this year’s primaries, but City Clerk Joel Hondorp said in addition to going through steps and state protocols, there is a new addition this midterm.

He said there will be a new cellular modem that will be hooked up to the tabulator, which is only used to transmit the results from the tabulator to the city, county and state.

“It is only sending information out,” he said. “The modem is not even connected to the tabulator until after the polls are closed.”

As part of the preparation process, Hondorp said the state gave city officials rules that required them to mark ballots in a pre-determined way.

“We then have to create a chart that shows every position on the ballot,” he said. “Each section will get a different vote. We also mark test ballots and run them through the tabulator to see the results to make sure the program works. Afterward, we zero out the tabulator and put it away until election day.”

The tabulator is computerized with data encryption and a program card, and it is not connected to the internet, which helps to eliminate concerns of cybersecurity and threat of election hacking, Hondorp said.

Also, instead of using digital voting, the state is sticking to a paper ballot, according to Fred Woodhams, the Michigan Secretary of State’s communication director

“I have never heard of anyone who can hack a piece of paper,” he said. “In talking with voters, they feel very confident, more confident, when they are using the paper ballot. The ballots look very similar, it has an oval and you circle it in. It is the same thing they’ve been doing for over a dozen years.”

The state and the federal government paid for the $40-million voting equipment. An $11.2-million federal security grant was used to help with cybersecurity training and educational programs for city clerks across the state, an upgraded qualified voter file system and postelection audits that include ballot validation.

The ballot validation process involves counting the ballots by hand in precincts that are chosen for audits to ensure the tabulators were calculating the votes correctly, Woodhams said.

The heightened election security measures were prompted by allegations that claimed Russian government agents hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers, stole private emails and conducted opposition research in the 2016 national presidential election, according to the New York Times.

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