Crawford County ensures voting security

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On Tuesday, election volunteers Marilyn Nies (left) and Sandy McClusky (right) tested the Prairie du Chien wards 1 and 6 touch screen voting machines by casting various voting scenarios, as dictated by city clerk Tina Fuller. Once they went through all eight scenarios, they matched the machine’s tape with the ballots cast to ensure the machines were correctly recording the votes. This process was done by all city wards and county municipalities. (Photo by Correne Martin)

Prairie du Chien ward 6 election chief Marilyn Nies casts a test ballot as the city conducted its annual public test of the touch screen voting machines Tuesday, Oct. 30.

By Correne Martin

The Crawford County Clerk’s Office regularly makes election security a priority. Though, with the increased concern over the vulnerability of America’s electronic voting systems, Clerk Janet Geisler said doing so is especially critical.

“I wish there was a way I could make voters feel more secure,” she stated. “I know people are concerned about the voting machines, but they are not, in any way, shape or form, connected to the Internet.” Geisler added that she’s participated in a number of recounts over the years, and they’ve “always come out correct.”

Also to ensure security, the state has more heavily emphasized webinars about safety measures this year as well. 

Crawford County receives its voting machine cartridges from a vendor out of St. Cloud, Minn. 

“I give them the information to program onto the cartridges. The cartridges for the entire county are sent to me, and I put them in my vault,” Geisler explained. “I feel better knowing I have them and I know they’re all there. I secure the cartridges in a bag for each municipality and then deliver those to the municipal clerks so they can be ready for [machine testing].” 

Each municipality also must verify that the names of the candidates are spelled correctly and appear in the correct order. They not only check the names but they also test each machine by casting different voting scenarios and reviewing the tape to confirm that the machine recorded the votes as intended for all the possible scenarios. After the testing, each municipality locks the cartridges up again in the bags and doesn’t open them again until Election Day. 

Geisler said she keeps a security log for each year of when she receives the cartridges and when they’re delivered. This year, she got the cartridges around Oct. 15, and personally delivered them in time for machine testing this week. In addition, the municipalities keep logs of activity involving the cartridges. 

Aside from following these safeguards, Geisler said the clerk’s office prints all the poll books and ballots once they’re approved by the state. She tracks the county’s absentee votes as well, as received and reported by the municipal clerks. 

She’s aware that some third parties send out mock absentee registration forms and cautioned that these mailers cause more confusion than anything. “We don’t have control over that,” she said of the county.

The county municipalities have, however, received a high amount of requests for absentee ballots this year, she noted. As long as those ballots are returned properly filled out by the close of Election Day, they will be counted. 

While absentee ballots are many this election, Geisler anticipates voter turnout, as a whole, to be elevated like it was four years ago when there was 70 percent turnout. She’s printed about 2,500 paper ballots for Crawford County, and that’s in addition to those who cast ballots via the touch screen voting machines.

The next step is opening the polls on Election Day, Nov. 6. Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Geisler also expects a greater number of new voter registrations next Tuesday. She shared that, in 2014, there were over 50 new voter registrations in the county. 

On election night, the county clerk’s office keeps busy taking calls—on three separate phone lines—from the municipalities with their final candidate tallies. The municipalities that tend to take the longest to count are those with more voters using paper ballots. Geisler said the office used to receive numerous calls from candidate tracking groups, but she’s requested they don’t call, but rather leave the lines open for the municipal clerks who are phoning in their numbers. Periodically, through the night, Geisler posts updates to the county website (http://www.crawfordcountywi.org/elections.html), which has proven to be a vital resource for the public. 

At the end of the night, around 11:30, she estimated, the unofficial election results are posted to the website. 

In the days following the election, the county canvass board meets to look for errors. “After we know the numbers are correct, I put them on the website as official results and send them to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

All in all, Geisler believes the county’s election process is truly secure. “I’d rather we take the extra time and get it right,” she said. 

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