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In The Public Interest: Security And Proper Operation Of Our Local Voting System

Sep 9, 2019

City of Ann Arbor cleark Jackie Beaudry and Geoffrey Smereck from the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU

In this edition of "In The Public Interest," our bi-weekly conversation with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with City of Ann Arbor clerk Jackie Beaudry and Geoffrey Smereck of the League about recent changes to the voting system and how that is impacting elections and the voting experience.


Security and proper operation of our voting systems is a big topic of discussion these days. 

Proposal 3, which implemented a variety of voting rights and added an audit requirement, passed in November with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

What does the City of Ann Arbor do to before an election to be sure the voting system is working properly and is secure?  Who is in charge of getting this done?

Section 13.7 of the City Charter describes the Election Commission

“The Clerk, the Chief of Police, and the Attorney shall be the Election Commission.  The Clerk shall be chairman.  The Election Commission shall have charge of all activities and duties required of it by law and this charter relating to the conduct of City elections.  The compensation of all election personnel shall be determined in advance by the Council. In any case of doubt concerning election procedure, the Election Commission shall prescribe the procedure to be followed.”

What are the duties of the election commission?​

Chapter 1, pp 6-7 of the Election Officials' Manual published by the Michigan Bureau of Elections summarizes the activities and duties required of the Election Commission by Michigan Election Law.  Commission meetings are not regularly scheduled and are open to the public.   Some of the duties regularly handled at the meetings of the Election Commission include:

  • Approving Ballots
  • Appointing Precinct Inspectors (Poll Workers)
  • Public Accuracy Testing of Voting Machines
  • Precinct Changes/Consolidation of Precincts

What elements of Michigan’s voting system contribute to making voting secure?

  • Paper ballots
  • New voting machines in 2018, which promised better technology and fewer breakdowns
  • Updating voter registration systems
  • Audit requirements

The fact that the state is required to audit is a new phenomenon; before Proposal 3 passed last fall, the state audited a fixed percentage of precincts after each election but wasn’t required by law to do so.  The state is evaluating audit methods before deciding which to use.

Do we still have vulnerabilities?

  • Over-centralization of election management systems that are used to program ballots for each election.  Today around 63 percent of Michigan counties rely on elections technology companies to program their ballots each election, according to data provided by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office — including some of the state’s largest counties, such as Wayne and Macomb.  
  • Training - “The people operating the machines need to be trained in how to ensure that they are properly secured, that our ballots are secured, that they can be recounted,” Secy. State Benson said.  Benson said, in May, she plans to hire someone to oversee election security statewide and improve and standardize training so local elections officials are prepared for attacks. 

 

  • Voter registration records

State voter registration systems are also centralized by nature and usually connected to the Internet.  In January, Michigan joined the Electronic Registration Information Center, which allows member states to cross-check voter registration data to ensure the rolls are accurate. 

“Although it doesn’t directly guard against cyber intrusions into the voter file – we have other safeguards against that activity, and are considering more – having an accurate and up-to-date voter list could mitigate the damage of any effort to alter or manipulate voter records by making it more noticeable if it were to occur,” said Shawn Starkey, spokesman for Benson’s office. 

As of March, the state had spent $10.5 million upgrading the system.  The department will consider other security measures once the commission Halderman helps lead releases its recommendations. 

 

  • Voter Confidence

That’s a serious problem, Halderman and Benson said.  The best defense, Halderman said, is re-engineering the elections system to make it one based on evidence rather than faith. 

Next election will be November 5, 2019.  If you don’t vote, you’ve guaranteed your vote won’t be counted.

League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area logo
Credit League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area / lwvannarbor.org

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu