As Union County enters election season, poll workers and election officials are working hard to make voting an easy process for residents.
Union County’s election processes move voters through the polling place efficiently, while keeping security an utmost priority. Here’s a look at how that process works.
Union County uses the ELECTronic 1242 voting machines, produced by Danaher Controls, Inc. These machines were purchased in 2001, ahead of the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act, which included provisions for accessibility, provisional voting, the creation of a federal Election Assistance Commission and new requirements for voting machines. In 2006, the county appropriated funds to upgrade those machines to put them in compliance with federal and state regulations.
The ELECTronic is a direct recording electronic voting system. A poll worker must activate each ballot for the voter, by first selecting the parameters for each particular voter. Those parameters may include which primary election one would prefer to vote in and the location of their residence. At that point the voter is free to cast their ballot.
Election coordinator Shelby Ward demonstrates the ELECTronic 1242 for poll workers. Caitlan Butler/News-Times
The voter should choose their preferred candidate in all of the races they want to vote in, then press the green VOTE button in the bottom right hand corner of the machine. After they have left the voting booth, the poll worker will log the vote by pressing the ‘Officer’s Control’ button located on the back of the machine, which will store the vote.
If a voter neglects to push the VOTE button, a poll worker will try to catch them before they leave the building. If the voter has already left, two poll workers may enter the voting booth; one will press the VOTE button and the other will observe. For disabled voters that need assistance, two poll workers will help them vote, with one acting as an observer. Every voting machine owned by Union County is accessible for those with disabilities.
Each machine is capable of storing 7,200 votes. Typically, midterm elections yield a lower voter turnout than presidential elections. However, turnout for the 2014 midterms was higher than expected, as was turnout for the 2016 election. About 7,000 people voted in the 2008 primaries in Union County.
Once a machine is full, it can no longer be used in that specific election. Union County has 58 machines in total, though three are out of commission and only used for spare parts.
After the polls close on election night and voters have cast their ballots, a poll worker will break the seal on the back of the machine to access the cartridge that holds the votes. The cartridge is sealed in a box and taken to the county courthouse to be counted by election commissioners, along with any paper and provisional ballots cast.
These machines have safeguards to protect against hacking and fraud. They are never connected to the internet and vote counts, even unofficial ones, are not transmitted wirelessly. This makes it almost impossible to tamper with votes remotely. Safety seals on any opening of the machine are there to alert poll workers and election officials to any tampering or problems with the machine’s physical security.
Poll workers can select the correct ballot for a given voter from this panel on the back of the voting machine. On the left are the choices for primary elections and voting districts. Each polling place’s choices will vary depending on the districts covered within the polling place. Caitlan Butler/News-Times
Some counties in Arkansas use voting machines that do not leave a verifiable paper trail, which poses election security risks, and the 2018 federal budget made funds available to states to update their election security and equipment. With the money allotted in the federal budget, not every state will receive enough to completely replace the machines that do not leave a verifiable paper trail. But Arkansas is one of two states that could fully fund a replacement of all their voting machines with the expected $4.5 million, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan law and policy institute.
However, some worry that new equipment could be less secure than the ELECTronic.
“The Secretary of State has asked if we would be willing to be put on a list to receive potential funding to purchase new equipment. … The equipment that has been offered by the Secretary of State has models that have been reported to have vote flipping issues, the lack of a verified voting paper trail, internet access requirements and have exposed the personal information of registered voters,” said former election commissioner Greg Harrison. “The model that Union County uses … has worked effectively for our voters for 18 years.”
On the front lines of any election are the poll workers manning the polling places where voters come to cast their ballots.
On April 27, Union County held its first poll worker training session of the 2018 election season. Headed by Election Coordinator Shelby Ward, election commissioners Kermit Parks, Rhonda Anderson and LaQuita Rainey were also present.
Most attendees were veteran poll workers; only 16 people had never worked the polls before. Another training session will take place this month, though as of early May it had not yet been scheduled.
Poll workers are required to sign an oath swearing to perform their duties to the best of their ability, try to prevent fraud or abuse and protect voters’ privacy. Before opening the polls, they are required to account for all paper ballots, security seals, supplies and arranging the polling place according to legal standards. That includes making sure all the voting machines are visible but private and ready for use when the doors open for voters.
At the poll workers training, Election Coordinator Shelby Ward (back) and election commissioners (from left) Kermit Parks, LaQuita Rainey and Rhonda Anderson answer questions from a poll worker. Caitlan Butler/News-Times
When someone goes to vote, the poll worker will ask him or her to identify themselves and ask for photo identification. A recent state Supreme Court decision has made it necessary for anyone voting to produce a photo ID. However, anyone who shows up will be allowed to vote; if there is a question of a voter’s eligibility, they will be asked to use a provisional ballot and it will be determined at the County Clerk’s office whether their vote will count. If one votes on a provisional ballot, they will be notified after the election whether their vote qualified or not.
Throughout Election Day, poll workers should be checking their Precinct Voter Registration List, which voters must sign before voting, against the vote counter on the back of the voting machine to make sure they match up. When the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, the last person in line at that time must be the last person allowed to vote.
After everyone has voted and the machines have been deactivated, the poll worker still has several steps they must take before votes can be taken to the courthouse for counting. They must again check the Voter List against the votes counted on the machine, and then certify those results. Then they have to account for all the supplies they used, including security seals on the voting machines.
Votes, any lists used throughout the voting period and supplies must be sealed before transport to the courthouse. Once the votes are delivered to the courthouse, the cartridge where they are stored is plugged into a vote counter. The vote counter identifies the votes cast and logs them. Election commissioners count paper ballots by hand.
Once the votes are counted, results can be verified using paper receipts produced by the voting machines. That measure ensures that a post-election audit can take place. The post-election audit checks to make sure that the equipment and procedures used to count votes worked properly. That way, election officials can be aware of any problems with the voting machines or processes for poll workers.
After the election results are verified, winners are announced and sworn into office on Jan. 1.
Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.