Monday, August 13, 2018

Oshkosh elections officials say they are confident about voting security safeguards

Photo by Miles Maguire
Democratic members of Congress have criticized the way Wisconsin conducts post-election audits.

By Moira Danielson

Although Wisconsin has been described as one of the most vulnerable states when it comes to election security, the local officials who oversee voting in Oshkosh say they are confident that the necessary safeguards are in place.

Oshkosh voters will cast their votes Tuesday in partisan elections for a variety of positions, ranging from governor to clerk of the courts.

Last month the Democratic members of the congressional Committee on House Administration identified Wisconsin as one of 18 states with the biggest threats to election security. They placed Wisconsin in the third tier of their rankings, meaning that the state has significant election security vulnerabilities and needs additional assistance beyond recently appropriated federal funds to complete upgrades in their election infrastructure.

But Winnebago County Clerk Sue Ertmer, the top local elections official, said she believes local voters can have confidence in the current setup when they cast their ballot.

“I believe the public has a heightened sense of awareness because of recent events, but those of us involved in elections have always been concerned about security,” she said. Oshkosh City Clerk Pamela Ubrig echoed many of Ertmer’s comments about voting security.

According to Ertmer, “the Wisconsin Elections Commission has developed tabletop training exercises for county and municipal clerks that addresses election security.” She said the county has developed contingency plans in case of election-day emergencies.

“The county has a new cyber security employee that is involved with election and cyber security organizations at the county, state and national level,” Ertmer added.

“Coordination with our Information Systems (IS) Department and our election vendor, along with the county’s Emergency Management Department and Sheriff’s Department, allows us to maintain election security on all levels—cyber, hardware, etc,” she said in an email message.

“Cyber wise, our IS Department and our election vendor have various types of software that monitors and logs all traffic on our voting equipment and servers, so we would see if an unauthorized entity attempted to gain access to our system,” Ertmer said. “As far as other aspects of election security—securing ballots, election results transmission, etc.—we canvas every election to verify that proper procedures were followed at each polling place.”

Ertmer said the county also makes sure to check all of the numbers to make sure they all are accurate.

“At this canvas, we verify the number of voters to the number of ballots cast; verify that the results that were transmitted via modem on election night match the hard copy reports printed off each piece of voting equipment; review all other paperwork generated at each polling place on election night, etc. etc.,” Ertmer said.

Ertmer said these protocols for local voting should put local citizens at ease.

The big criticism from the House Democrats was that the state does not audit election results very well. “Post-election audits are designed poorly and do not confirm the accuracy of the election outcome,” they said. “In addition, the audits are conducted after the election is certified, so if an anomaly was detected, it wouldn’t affect the election results.”

Without addressing this criticism specifically, Ertmer said recent experience suggests that the voting system is secure.

“I believe that a lot of people gained confidence in our voting system after we conducted the presidential recount in 2016 and people locally and nationally were able to see the accuracy of our system,” she said.

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