In the current presidential election season, candidates and pundits have debated claims of “rigging” an election. Reporter Newspapers asked DeKalb County elections director H. Maxine Daniels to explain how officials prevent fraud and tampering.
Daniels has been DeKalb’s elections director since 2009.
Q: Is it really possible to “rig” an election? Are DeKalb’s elections secure from tampering?
The way that the election is conducted makes it very difficult to “rig” an election for many reasons.
First, none of the equipment is ever connected to the internet so to access it, the individuals would have to enter our office. In DeKalb County alone, there are more than 3,000 pieces of equipment that would have to be tampered with in order to have a substantial impact on the election. Multiply that by the 159 counties in the state and the size of any such operation would be impossible to perform in secrecy. Second, every county, including DeKalb, has physical security protocols that make it very difficult for someone to tamper with the equipment undetected. It is unlikely that there is any hidden programming to “rig the election” because it would have had to been placed in the equipment 14 years ago and been undetected by Kennesaw State University Center for Elections which tests every piece of equipment any time it is sent to the vendor or repaired to ensure that the software has not been altered since the original programming. Additionally, each piece of equipment is tested prior to each election here at our office to ensure it counts the ballots as expected prior to using it for an election.
Q: What are the main types of potential election fraud or tampering, and how does DeKalb guard against each of them?
Election fraud is usually when someone tries to vote for an elector or a person who is not eligible attempts to vote. Since all in-person voting requires identification with a photograph, there are almost no instances of fraud at in-person voting sites. Most attempts at voter fraud occur in absentee mail balloting. The safeguard to prevent fraud is by requiring a signature of the voter on both the application and the returned ballot. We then compare those signatures against the one we maintain on file. If they do not match, we reject the application or ballot.
Election tampering involves attempting to alter ballots or programming to change the outcome of the election. As mentioned before, the fact that the equipment is never connected to the internet makes it difficult to access the equipment and ballots. Prior to the election, we test every voting unit to ensure that it will count the votes correctly. Additionally, there are multiple levels of security during the delivery of the units and before the poll officials actually put the units into service. Finally, there are proprietary handoffs between the voting units and the server that tabulates the election and between the voting units, electronic poll books and voting cards. To tamper with the election at the poll, someone would have to get past our poll officials, who never leave the units unattended, and would have to break through our security levels undetected. To do so in our office would require a break in without our security systems detecting it.
Q: Last year, the county had an elections controversy with the LaVista Hills cityhood vote, with an allegedly stray memory card from a voting machine and a supervisor alleging fraud. Has that investigation been resolved? Were any of those complaints valid?
The allegations levied by our former employee are still being investigated by the Office of the Secretary of State and no charges have been made. Election fraud and tampering are both felony offenses.
Q: In your time as director, has the county ever caught anyone tampering with the vote?
We have had no instances of vote tampering in my tenure with the department over the last 15 years.
Q: If a citizen has a concern about their vote or the way a poll is run, what should they do?
Individuals with concerns about their ballots while they are in the poll should immediately contact a poll official before casting the ballot. If there is a problem with the ballot, the poll official can correct it prior to the ballot being cast. Once the ballot is cast, there is no way for the poll official or anyone in our office to determine the problems since the ballots are randomly stored and cannot be attributed to the voter. If there is a general concern about the polling place, the voter should inform the poll manager or call our office to report the concern.