Elections 101: Election Security - Part 1

Elections 101 is a weekly series of articles offering a variety of information regarding elections in Iowa and Allamakee County prior to this year’s June 4 Primary Election. The information is being provided courtesy of Allamakee County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Denise Beyer.

Election security and the integrity of elections has been scrutinized more in recent years. In article #5 in a series of six related to the election process, Auditor Denise Beyer explains some of the measures taken by all counties in the state of Iowa during both pre-election preparation and testing and the Election Day process to ensure an accurate, safe and secure election. The final article next week will explain the process for reporting to the Iowa Secretary of State on Election Night and the required Post-Election Audit.

What is a ballot style?
For the Primary Election, the three ballot styles are Democrat, Republican or Libertarian. For a General Election, locally, there will be 26 ballot styles with each of 18 townships having a unique ballot style to vote for their respective township trustees, and the other eight ballot styles are for the three Waukon wards and the other five cities.
Each vote counting machine is programmed by the Auditor and staff to accept only the ballot styles being voted at that specific precinct. For example, Precinct 2 at the Waukon Event Center includes voters from five townships, including French Creek, Jefferson, Ludlow, Makee, and Union Prairie townships. The machine at Precinct 2 will only accept ballot styles for these five townships at the General election.

Pre-Election verification
The County Auditor orders and proofs all ballot styles to confirm correct races, candidate order and spelling, among other items on a Ballot Proofing Checklist. Once all ballots are approved, printed and received by the Auditor’s office, ballot counts are verified. Two staff members verify the number of each ballot style ordered matches the number received. The totals for all ballot styles are recorded on a reconciliation sheet as a beginning balance and all ballots are then filed away securely in the Auditor’s office until absentee voting begins.

Daily reconciliation
Ballots are shrink-wrapped in packages of 100, 50 or 25 when they are received, depending on number ordered. Only one package of each style is opened at a time and every package is counted immediately upon opening to verify that the number that should be inside is what is physically counted. There occasionally may be a difference of one or two too few or too many ballots due to machines doing the counting and wrapping at the printer. Two staff each count and if they agree on any discrepancy, a note is made on the ballot reconciliation sheet so staff are reminded what number they are balancing to when reconciling at the end of the day.
Once ballot mailing and in-office voting starts May 15, a report will be run at the end of every day showing how many of each ballot style were used. Then every ballot style is reconciled using the beginning number minus the number used that day, and that should equal the physical count remaining. The ending number one day becomes the beginning number for the following day.

Public testing of equipment
All vote counting equipment is tested to ensure all ballots and votes are being read correctly. A “test deck” is created for each ballot style for testing of vote counting equipment. The test deck is stamped with a red “TEST” stamp and specifically marked by the Auditor and/or staff with a predetermined number of votes for each candidate in each race, as well as votes for write-ins. Every voting oval on every ballot is tested to make sure the machines are reading votes correctly, including write-ins.
During testing, each machine is programmed to accept only the ballots for the precinct where that machine will be placed, and the corresponding ballot test decks are fed through the machine. The machine prints a “zero” report before testing, as it will do on Election Day. Ballots are tested in all four orientations a voter can feed their ballot into the machine to ensure ballots are read correctly no matter which orientation a voter uses on Election Day.
Once all test deck ballots are inserted, the results of the test are printed out. The staff testing the machine will verify the results show the total number of ballots tested is correct and also verify the predetermined number of votes for each candidate in each race were counted correctly. If there are any discrepancies, it needs to be determined if the ballots were not marked correctly by Auditor/staff or if the machine is not reading ballots properly. A marking error is remedied by correcting the error. If the discrepancy is a machine error, that machine is replaced with an extra machine that is tested in the same method. A spare machine is always available.
Once machines are confirmed to be reading ballots accurately, a numbered seal is placed over the compartment containing the flash drive with the election program and the seal number is recorded. The flash drive also will contain the vote counts for that machine once voting starts. The Precinct Election Officials (PEOs) verify this seal is intact and the number is unchanged on the morning of Election Day to confirm the machine was not tampered with between when it was tested and when they are turning it on.
The PEOs turn the machine on and it prints a “zero report” which all PEOs at that precinct must sign, confirming the machine started with zero votes for all races. The PEOs sign this zero report and place it in the designated folder to be returned to the Auditor at the end of the night.

Election Day reconciling
At the close of Election Day at 8:00 p.m., the PEOs must reconcile all ballot styles, the same as the Auditor’s office has done every day leading up to the election. The starting number of each ballot style, minus the number of ballots used of each ballot style should match the physical count of the remaining unvoted ballots. The number of ballots that were counted by the machine must match the number of Declaration of Eligibility slips signed by voters when they sign in at the polls.
The PEOs do periodic reconciling throughout the day as time allows, checking the same counts each time - the number of voters who have checked in compared to the number of ballots used compared to the number of ballots counted by the machine. The closing process is performed at 8 p.m., which includes a final reconciliation of voters checked in to ballots used to ballots counted. Also, the beginning ballot count minus ballots used should equal unvoted ballots.
The close process includes printing the Results Summary from the vote counting equipment. This summary shows the total votes for each race and candidate and the total number of ballots cast. This Election Summary is signed by all PEOs at that precinct and placed in the same folder as the Zero Report from the beginning of the day. The seal over the flash drive compartment is then broken, compartment unlocked and the flash drive removed. The flash drive is placed in an envelope with a large sticker placed over the sealed flap. All PEOs sign the seal and the Auditor’s office verifies the envelope has not been tampered with upon return.
Voted ballots and unvoted ballots are bagged up separately with a numbered seal placed on each bag and each number recorded, to be verified by the Auditor’s office upon return. The only reasons a bag of ballots can be unsealed and opened is for a recount or a post-election audit.
Next week’s final article in the series will cover how each county ensures results are accurately reported to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office and the Post Election Audit process.

Questions? The Auditor is your trusted source
Anyone with questions regarding this topic or any other election law or process should call the Allamakee County Auditor’s office at 563-568-3522. The Auditor’s office should be your trusted source for all election questions and information. Auditor Denise Beyer warns against believing everything read on social media and the internet as it may not be true, and she says even TV and radio news can be confusing or misleading as they often talk about what is happening in other states, or issues and topics that do not apply to Iowa elections. Use your County Auditor as your trusted source of all election information.