Ohio's Secretary of State Fights to Destroy Evidence of Vote Count

Updated on February 27, 2019
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Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He has been published in the Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted

A group of citizen election integrity activists is concerned about the vote count of Tuesday's election. After speaking with the election officials of Cuyahoga County, Franklin County, and the office of Secretary of State Jon Husted, it has become clear that there is something these officials do not want the public to see in the upcoming primary on Tuesday.

The counties have introduced new voting equipment that utilizes digital ballot imaging. After each physical ballot is cast, the machines take a digital image of each voter's ballot and uses the images to tally the votes. Secretary Jon Husted and the Boards of Election of the aforementioned counties would like to delete all of the digital images created by the machines, and count the votes the old fashioned way.

This has prompted activists to sue both the secretary of state and the boards of election from both counties. They argue that the ballot pictures are meant to serve as an easy way to perform preliminary audits of vote counts without having to access the paper ballots. So, why would the secretary of state and election officials be fighting so hard to destroy them?

There are essentially three kinds of voting systems in use across the United States. The most common type uses paper ballots which are hand-marked by the voter, then fed into a machine which takes a picture of the ballot at the same time, and an "optical scanner" counts the votes. Different companies make this type of system, but the underlying technology is essentially the same. Mark the ballot by hand, feed it into the machine, it takes image, and the votes are counted. This is considered by many to be the best system overall by election integrity activists.

The next most common system, used by about 25% of precincts, is the inferior touch-screen Direct Recording Electronic device, or DRE, which leaves a "paper trail." These machines require the voter to select their choice by touching the screen. The machine then spits out a "receipt" that you can examine to make sure your choice was recorded correctly. However, these machines are much too easy to hack because the screen and the receipt could show the correct choices while the internal tabulation software could record anything a hacker wants.

Finally there are DREs with no paper trail, called "push and pray" machines by election activists. The states of New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana still use these.

The system used in Ohio, and that which Secretary John Husted and election officials are trying to manipulate, is considered the best for a number of reasons. One main reason is that there is a hardcopy of a paper ballot which is difficult to tamper with without it becoming obvious. Also, the digital picture of each ballot that is saved in each precinct machine's memory serves as a revolutionary new auditing tool which allows ordinary citizens to confirm the machine vote counts, since these images can be easily posted on the Internet or made available on a DVD. One manufacturer of this type of machine, Hart Intercivic, highlights this benefit in its marketing literature: "Auditability: Post election access to scanned ballots for complete transparency and auditability."

Page from literature for Hart Intercivic vote-counting machine, highlight indicates audit feature.
Page from literature for Hart Intercivic vote-counting machine, highlight indicates audit feature. | Source

So, we return to the question, what reason do the secretary and election officials have to delete digital ballot images? Perhaps by looking into the past we may find an answer.

Cuyahoga County was surrounded by controversy when George Bush mysteriously came from behind John Kerry in this key swing county and state to win reelection in 2004. The controversy was the subject of a lawsuit: King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell.

Other election departments across the country have also been mired in controversy. In Florida, the Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes was discovered to have destroyed the paper ballots in the 2016 Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders follower Tim Canova, and the former DNC Chairwoman, US Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. The discovery came as Canova was suing for a hand recount of the paper ballots, after Wasserman-Schultz handily won reelection.

The non-profit website Verified Voting lists the type of voting system used in every US county. The types of optical scan vote-counting machines which generate digital images of the ballots include the ES&S DS200, the ES&S DS850, the Dominion ImageCast Precinct and ImageCast Central, the Hart Intercivic Verity Scan and Verity Central, and the Unisyn Voting OpenElect OVO, according to the website.

On Monday morning, May 7th, the day before the 2018 primaries in Ohio, a judge will decide whether or not election authorities can wipe out part of the audit trail. The better question, of course is: What is this even doing in a courtroom in the first place?

© 2018 Ralph Lopez


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