For the past several days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and his surrogates have been making unprecedented claims about a rigged election. The claims culminated Wednesday evening in Trump’s refusal to say he’ll accept the results of the Nov. 8 election, an affront to the democratic system itself. The claims of rigging or voter fraud are demonstrably false, and Trump’s understanding of how elections work in the United States is poor, particularly with regard to its decentralized, state and local-based infrastructure. We invited Flagler County Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart to explain how the system works in Flagler, as it does with close similarities in Florida’s 66 other counties, and to answer questions Lenhart has been getting in light of recent claims, which she notes are not exclusive to 2016.
By Kaiti Lenhart
It’s that time of year again. Voting systems across the United States have come under fire from both sides of the political spectrum. In the Elections Office, we have the same conversation with voters to debunk the myths and rumors spread in October of every even-numbered year. The mission of the Supervisor of Elections is to enhance public confidence, encourage citizen participation and increase voter awareness. Why? Because your trust in the electoral process is essential for the success of democracy: a government of the people, for the people and by the people. A community is made stronger by an active, informed electorate. Your right to vote is precious and your Flagler County Elections Team is working hard to make sure your voice is heard. Here are the topics most commonly questioned by concerned voters, explained first-hand by your local Elections Official.
Security of the Voting System.: Concerned voters have contacted the Elections Office and shared videos and other news stories which suggest the voting system can be “hacked.” All of these scenarios begin with unrestricted access being provided to the voting system memory card or media which would not be acceptable in any county in Florida and certainly not in Flagler County.
The Elections Office is secured by motion detectors and video surveillance, with additional exterior cameras and motion sensors added in 2015. Otherwise, the equipment is in the full view of the election poll workers, poll watchers and most likely several voters during use for early voting or on Election Day. The election tabulation server is a stand-alone system: it is not connected to the Internet or any network. The tabulation equipment also does not connect to the Internet or a network. Therefore, it would be impossible for a security breach of the server or equipment to occur from off-site.
The election-definition media is secured in the machines by lock, and sealed with a tamper-resistant seal. (Storage media is used for each individual tabulator which contains the election definition.) This seal carries a unique serial number which is recorded after the Logic and Accuracy test is completed and the machines are set for election. This same seal is verified and confirmed to be free of tampering by all members of the election poll workers prior to use on Election Day. Access to the election definition on a voting system would require the memory access door key, breaking the tamper seal, loading the definition media (which requires the password and encryption key media from the original definition being replaced), and an identical new seal.
Even if a breach of the system was made in full view of voters and a team of election poll workers, the newly coded system would be rejected by the tabulation server. Each piece of media created by the election definition contains an encrypted security key which is changed for every election. Our entire voting system is based upon the paper ballot, which cannot be hacked. Ballots are sorted by precinct and stored securely in the Elections Office under lock and key in the event of a required recount or the Manual Audit after every election.
Voter Roll or List Maintenance: During each Presidential election cycle, we hear reports of “dead” persons and “non-citizens” on the voter rolls. In addition to the voter eligibility requirements and verification by the Department of State (see below), the integrity of the voter registration list is preserved through regular list maintenance.
The list maintenance process is mandated in every county in Florida by Section 98.065, Florida Statutes. Supervisors of Elections across Florida are required to conduct list maintenance activities once during every odd-numbered year and no later than 90 days prior to a Federal election. In Flagler County, we conduct these list maintenance activities regularly and according to schedule.
Dead people will not be voting.
We also process deceased matches each week with information received from the Bureau of Vital Statistics and the Social Security Administration. The voter registration database is also cross-checked regularly for those persons who are ineligible for a variety of other statutory reasons, which include felony convictions or those who have been adjudicated mentally incapacitated with respect to voting. These match files are processed in accordance with Section 98.075, Florida Statutes and the outlined procedures for removal.
Voter Registration and Voter Eligibility: To register to vote in the state of Florida, you must: be a US Citizen, a Florida resident, 18 years old, not adjudicated mentally incapacitated or convicted of a felony (without having rights restored) and provide a current and valid Florida driver’s license, Florida ID card, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Each new voter registration is entered into the statewide database and the applicant’s information is verified by the Florida Department of State. Voter eligibility and citizenship is verified through two sources of information, the Florida Driver’s License or Social Security number provided by the applicant. One of these forms of identification is required to register to vote in the State of Florida.
Each person who registers to vote signs an oath on the Florida Voter Registration Application, which reads: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida, that I am qualified to register as an elector under the Constitution and laws of the State of Florida, and that all information provided in this application is true.”
Here’s a Florida Voter Registration Application (though the deadline for eligibility to vote in the Nov. 8 election has passed).
In order to vote in Florida, each voter must present an acceptable form of photo and signature identification. See details here. Any voter whose eligibility cannot be determined must vote with a provisional ballot. Each provisional ballot is presented to the three-member local Canvassing Board for determination on a case-by-case basis. The Canvassing Board is a three-person board comprised of a member from each branch of government: the chair of the County Commission (or designee), the County Judge and the Supervisor of Elections. All of the Canvassing Board meetings are open to the public.
Each of the early voting sites and precincts are communicating via a secure internal network to prevent voter fraud. This communication prevents anyone from sending their ballot by mail and/or attempting to vote twice during early voting or on Election Day. Real-time voting is recorded and communicated across the early voting sites and on Election Day.
Tabulation of Votes: We thoroughly test each component of the voting system prior to each election. Every oval position in every race is tested to ensure the voting equipment is reading ballots accurately. The equipment is further tested to ensure the ballots are read in every orientation and that an over-voted ballot is rejected by the tabulator, to give the voter the opportunity to review their choices. Thousands of test ballots from each vote type and ballot style are run through the equipment as part of our rigorous testing procedures to ensure the tabulators are functioning properly.
We also test the upload to the elections management server to ensure the results produced are the same as the predetermined totals on each individual tabulator. During a public meeting of the Canvassing Board, we perform the Logic and Accuracy testing of the voting system. The public is welcomed to come and witness the process first-hand, and have an opportunity to ask questions. The meeting for this General Election was held on Friday, October 14 at 1 p.m. Our voting system was tested and each piece of equipment passed our Logic and Accuracy test with a satisfactory rating of 100 percent.
After the election, we perform what is called a Manual Audit of the voting system. One race and one precinct are selected randomly by the Canvassing Board, and the paper ballots for the selected precinct and race are counted by hand. The precinct-level results are not released until after the Manual Audit has been completed, so the counting team does not know the results for the precinct. The tabulation totals are compared to the hand counted totals for each candidate and each race, for every vote type and ballot style. This public meeting of the Canvassing Board is scheduled for November 22 at 10 a.m. at the elections office.
Vote By Mail Ballots: Mail ballots are counted in every election. Early voting and vote-by-mail ballots are the first results you see posted at 7 p.m. or shortly thereafter on Election Night. The identity of each mail ballot voter is verified by signature match on the return envelope. The Flagler County Elections Team has processed and delivered over 15,000 vote-by-mail ballots for this General Election. Elections Staff will be very busy checking every single one of the returned envelopes to ensure each signature matches the signature on file in the voter’s record. If the signature does not match or if the signature is missing, the voter is notified and given an opportunity to update their signature.
We are fortunate that our county is a manageable size and that individualized attention can be given to voters if there is an issue with their returned ballot. Elections staff goes the extra mile to contact mail voters by phone and email, if necessary. All mail ballots with difference in signature are referred to the Canvassing Board for a decision. During the Primary Election, there were 18 ballots referred to the Canvassing Board for a difference in signature out of a total of 11,684 mail ballots issued. That’s a referral rate of less than 1 percent.
Mail votes are tabulated during public meetings of the Canvassing Board by using a central count, high speed scanner. Our vote-by-mail returns have increased steadily since 2012 and this technology has made the tabulation process much more efficient. These ballots are tabulated in a public meeting. Any member of the public is welcomed to attend, see for yourself how the Elections Team and Canvassing Board work together to ensure every vote counts! Our first meeting for the canvassing of mail ballots is Oct. 26, at 10 a.m. The full schedule of the Flagler County Canvassing Board is always available on the Elections Office homepage under Public Notices.
The integrity of your voting system is my highest priority. I would love the opportunity to explain our local elections process to anyone who has a concern. I am available by phone at (386) 313-4170 to answer any questions.
Kaiti Lenhart was appointed Supervisor of Elections by Gov. Rick Scott in early 2015, and won election to the post last August.