The Journal Gazette
Saturday, January 25, 2020 1:00 am

Black boxes increase voting device security

160 added to machines; allow for paper trail


Beth Dlug, director of elections for the Allen County Election Board, calls them “black boxes for voting machines.”

They're little black devices added to the machines that provide a paper trail that can be used to check whether the machines are malfunctioning or properly tallying votes.

The county rolled out a demonstration of the new devices Friday to demystify them for dozens of poll workers, party and elected officials and others.

Not every voter will see one when casting ballots in the upcoming 2020 primary and general elections, Dlug said. And, she pledges, the devices won't make it more complicated to vote.

But at $1,800 a unit, they will provide a couple of extra ways for voters and voting officials to double-check votes, should a question arise about an election.

That hasn't happened in Allen County, but it has happened in other areas of the nation, Dlug said.

Problems have made vote security a big issue, with 40% of Americans in one poll saying they don't think the country is ready to conduct secure elections in November.

Allen County uses self-contained, direct-record voting machines, which aren't connected to each other or the internet, Dlug said. That makes it easy to attach the new devices and get a paper record, she said.

After casting votes, a voter presses a button to allow him or her to see a paper record on the device attached to their voting station.

When that record checks out with what was intended, a button is pushed that stores the ballot on paper inside the machine with other ballots. The paper ballots can be retrieved by poll workers.

“The main message is the machine is as secure as it ever was, but we have a paper trail and can rebuild an election,” said Steve Shamo, trainer with MicroVote Corp., the devices' vendor.

Dlug said the county has 160 devices – only enough for one or possibly two at each of the county's 116 polling places. The devices likely will be tested during early voting, but the full election board will decide where the devices will be placed, she said. 

All of Allen County's polling places must be fitted with the devices by 2029. The state has money available to help counties afford them, Dlug said.

About $6 million has been appropriated by the state to retrofit voting machines with the devices, Dlug said. That number is in flux and may go up in upcoming weeks, she said.

About a third of Indiana's counties have similar direct-record machines, she said.

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