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Paper Ballots Integral to Connecticut Election Security

Election officials in the state are pointing to the benefits of physical ballots as the national conversation around election security continues to draw focus.

by Alex Wood, Journal Inquirer / January 4, 2021
Shutterstock/vesperstock

(TNS) — With election officials around the country under very public attack, Mark Dobbins, the Democratic registrar of voters in Glastonbury, wants Connecticut residents to know more about the procedures election officials here use to make sure that all legal votes — and only legal votes — are counted.

One is the old-fashioned paper trail, which Connecticut election officials use for many records, including ballots.

"We use a lot of paper, and you can't hack paper," Dobbins says.

In addition, the tabulating machines that count ballots aren't connected to the Internet and can't be hacked into, he says.

He adds that the tabulating machines are useless without memory cards. When the cards aren't in use, he says, LHS Associates, an election services company based in Salem, New Hampshire, holds them securely.

Gabe Rosenberg, general counsel to Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, says the University of Connecticut's Center for Voting Technology Research, or VoTeR Center, takes the memory cards before and after the election to make sure there are no problems.

Officials audit 5% of the state's voting precincts, Rosenberg says. The results exactly matched the machine counts this year, and the historical error rate is less than 1%, he says.

Another security measure widely used in Connecticut elections is to have "many eyes watching everything," Dobbins says.

ELECTION SECURITY

Against hacking: Use of paper ballots and other paper records, vote tabulating machines not connected to the Internet, audits of vote counts

Monitoring: "Many eyes watching everything"

Physical secuirty: Locked rooms for blank ballots and other election supplies, completed absentee ballots stored in "cages" within vaults, police escorts

For example, vote tabulating machines are tested before the election, and members of the public "are welcome to come and look over our shoulder and watch us do it," he says. Likewise, the public can watch as ballots are counted, he adds.

Dobbins says election equipment — from blank ballots to office supplies to the personal protective equipment that election workers needed this year — is kept in "blue bins" in a locked room around election time.

He says he and Lisbeth Becker, Glastonbury's Republican registrar, are the only people with keys to the room — and that no one is allowed to go in alone. Any time he goes in, Dobbins says, he must be accompanied by a Republican or an unaffiliated voter.

On Election Day, Dobbins says, the number of ballots at each polling place is noted at the start of the day — and every ballot has to be accounted for at the end of the day.

Due to the vastly increased demand for absentee ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the secretary of the state's office had absentee ballot applications mailed to every registered voter this year.

Some have wondered whether a new resident of an address could send in an application in the old resident's name, then vote by absentee ballot under that name while also voting under their own name.

But if the impersonated voter were to vote elsewhere, Rosenberg says, the fraudster would be caught. He adds that state law makes such fraud punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine — and that several federal laws prohibit it as well — putting a high price on casting a single fraudulent vote.

Responsibilities for Connecticut elections are divided between registrars of voters and town clerks. The clerks' responsibilities include sending out blank absentee ballots to voters who request them, receiving the completed ballots back, and storing them until it is time for the registrars to count them.

Manchester Town Clerk Joseph V. Camposeo says his office had to add part-time staff members to handle the increased workload, including data entry when ballots were sent out and when they were returned. He says the ballots were stored in a "cage" in his office's vault for extra security.

Manchester had absentee ballot "drop boxes" behind Town Hall and at the police station this year. When he collected more than one or two ballots from the police station box, Camposeo says, he would have a police escort on the way back.

©2021 Journal Inquirer, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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