Election Security in Massachusetts
Voters are concerned that their ballots are counted. Candidates are concerned that their efforts campaigning will take them to victory. Elected officials issue statements on election security without understanding the particulars of their election systems. And the media tries to explain our 50 states’ systems to everyone, with varying degrees of success. In the midst of all this confusion, mistrust, or just plain skepticism are the elections officials, City / Town Clerks, Elections Commissions, Secretaries of State, who must work under pressure with tight deadlines and no margin for error.
There are some basic facts that residents of Beverly and indeed of all of Massachusetts should understand: Every community in this state, no matter its size, uses some form of paper ballot. There are no touch-screen terminals connected to the internet that leave no paper trail and could be vulnerable to hacking. If any question arises about the results we report on election night (the so-called “preliminary results”), we can pull the ballots and count them by hand. In fact, voters in Beverly saw this first hand in our Municipal Election last November, when two candidates for Councilor-at-Large came within 11 votes of one another out of thousands cast, and a Recount Election was requested and held, affirming the result. The ballots themselves were secure from the morning of Election Day to the end of the Recount, as were the voting machines. All election workers were sworn in, and Beverly Police Officers were present with the ballots throughout the day, and the entire Recount process.
The voting machines we use are one of two possible models certified by the Secretary of State’s Elections Division. Our new so-called “tabulators” were chosen via a competitive quote process, and were all tested at the factory, the distributor, and in my office prior to Election Day. They also were secured throughout the process in the same way as the ballots. They are not connected to the internet, have no wired connections other than to a power outlet (with battery backup, also tested in advance, should power at the polling place fail). They generate a “zero tape” which is posted on the morning of the election, along with a final vote count tape that is also posted at the precinct and then returned with the tabulator, ballots, and other election-related materials to my office by the Precinct Warden and the uniformed Beverly Police Officer assigned to that precinct at the end of the day.
Finally, the state’s Voter Registration Information System (“VRIS”) is a closed system, also not connected to the internet. Voter Registration itself, the lists of registered voters that we generate for election day, and all election-related data, are contained in that closed system, accessible only via a private line circuit from my office to Boston, an arrangement duplicated in every city and town in the Commonwealth, so that we are connected to that system rather than via an internet IP address connection.
Residents with any questions can call the office anytime, 978-921-6000, visit our website (www.beverlyma.gov/departments/city-clerk/) or call the Secretary of State’s Elections Division tollfree on 1-800-462-VOTE. All of us involved with elections are doing everything we can to register all who are eligible, and then hopefully see them exercise this most fundamental aspect of our democracy, voting for the candidates of their choice at the State Primary and on Election Day in November.
Wes Slate, City Clerk