Voting preparations completed for elections on Tuesday
WILLMAR -- The voting machines and precinct counters in area counties have been tested, re-tested and sealed with security tabs in preparation for Tuesday's general election.
This is the second time that the new M100 optical scan machines that tabulate ballots at the polling place and the voter-assistive AutoMARK machines that allow individuals with disabilities to vote privately have been used in most Minnesota counties.
Counties purchased the new equipment this year with federal funds as part of the Help America Vote Act.
County auditors in the region said the machines worked well during the primary election and don't expect problems on Tuesday.
In Renville County the machines "worked slick" and the primary was "basically perfectly," said Auditor/Treasurer Larry Jacobs.
Voter turn out was only 13 percent in Renville County during the primary election, but Jacobs said they're "ready for a bigger turnout" on Tuesday.
Counties were required to run internal and public tests on the machines, which were completed within the last week or two. Election judges representing both political parties spent several hours Wednesday in the Kandiyohi County office building running test ballots through the machines to see if the total vote counts matched.
Jon Clauson, from Chippewa County, said they had a minor problem with the machine seeing the certain shade of ink used on the ovals that resulted in ballots being reprinted on Monday, but otherwise there were no problems. "We're ready to get the show on the road," he said.
Barb Loch, Meeker County auditor, said they discovered a couple mechanical "glitches" with some machines when they conducted their tests but there were no problems with the accuracy of the electronic tabulation of the paper ballots.
"The tallying is beautiful," said Loch, adding that the results were "cross-checked" for accuracy.
Unlike some states that have pure electronic voting, Minnesota voters mark their choices on paper ballots that are fed into the optical scanning M100 machine.
At the end of the evening, the total votes are tabulated at each precinct and the data is electronically transferred from county offices to the Secretary of State's office, which posts the results on the state Web site.
During the primary election, the quick flow of data from counties bogged down the state Web site and prevented some totals from being posted for several hours. On Wednesday, counties participated in a "stress test" with the Secretary of State's office to see if enhancements to the system worked.
In response to concerns about delayed voting results, Kandiyohi County will be posting local returns on its own Web site:
Sam Modderman, Kandiyohi County auditor, said national news reports of security problems with voting machines is not an issue here. He said the memory cards that store the vote count data cannot be tampered with.
The cards can only be removed if a door on the machine is unlocked and a special coded seal is broken. Modderman said if there's any sign that the seal is broken, the integrity of votes from that precinct would be questioned.
"There's no way anybody is going to get to get into our memory cards to change anything," said Modderman. "It won't happen here."
Loch agreed that the security of the Minnesota system is very high. "I don't know how you could hack into my machine," she said.
Having paper ballots provides another safety net for voter accuracy.
Kandiyohi County will be implementing a few changes since the primary. New secrecy sleeves were purchased so voters can put their ballots into the M100 counting machines without having them exposed to viewers.
Also, Modderman said a six-foot area around the M100 machine will be marked off with tape to provide additional privacy. By law, only the voters who are placing their ballot into the machine at the time can be within six feet of the machine unless they invite someone, like an election judge, into the zone to assist them.