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Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 06 November 2012

Elections workers unload ballots in the loading bay

From here ballot signatures will be scanned and each ballot will be assigned a unique identifying number

Before being opened ballots are stored in this room next to the "Opening Boards. Nobody is allowed to enter until ballots are moved. Observers can watch the process at all times.
At the opening boards the ballots are removed from their envelopes and workers check that they will scan correctly in the machines. Each table of four has a mix of people from different political parties.

As Americans turn out to vote, Oregon Department of Justice is investigating ballot tampering in Clackamas County.  A temporary elections worker, Deanna Swenson, is accused of filling in unmarked spaces to select Republican candidates.  Swenson was immediately fired.
According to Willamette Week, Swenson says just two ballots were involved.  Ballot tampering is a Class C  felony that can earn offenders up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine. The alleged offense apparently happened after the ballots had been opened but before they were counted.
So what security measures are in place to protect your vote.
The Skanner news visited Multnomah County Elections office accompanied by one of its chief critics, Andrew Nisbit.  A self-described, "semi-retired Republican old fart," and "a hippy and Grateful Dead fan who supported Reagan and nuclear power," Nisbet is an analyst with the energy consulting firm, McCullough Research. He's also a longtime GOP observer of Multnomah County elections.
Knowing that a Republican is accused of ballot tampering turns his stomach, he says. "I'd like to believe nobody would be as stupid as that idiot in Clackamas County, but human nature is not perfect. And  people of ill will can be Republicans as well as Democrats."
Nisbet says his main concern with the Multnomah County system is the Unity machine, the computer that tallies the accumulated results of the machine count, precinct by precinct. What's Nisbet's beef?
He says the computer is vulnerable to tampering through its USB ports, if somebody were to insert a USB drive that altered the inner software.  What would happen if somebody were to substitute a USB drive with a program to alter the results for one of the USB drives that hold each precinct's results, he asks.
"It's like a teenager parking the car outside with the key in the ignition and saying, 'What's the problem? The car is still there isn't it?" Nisbet says.
Tim Scott, Multnomah County elections director disagrees. He points to security measures in place:
 The ports are all covered with security tape.
The locked Red Room, where votes are counted and the Unity Machine lives, contains eight cameras, one trained directly on the computer.
Observers can view the room and cameras at all times during the election.
Only two people have the password to the Unity machine –Scott and another senior elections official.
The Unity machine is not networked outside the room.
The USB drives with the precinct tallies are all checked and formatted before the enter the Red Room and they don't leave until the end of the election.
After the count, Scott says, a randomly selected proportion of precincts are selected for a hand count.
"So if somebody did tamper with that computer, we would know immediately we did the hand count.
We're taking what I think are very good security measures."
So what would satisfy Nesbit?
He'd like to see the extra USB ports soldered over, rather than covered with security tape. He's also like to see a software audit, before during and after the election.
"What would make me feel good about the Unity machine would be if the flow of data could only be one way," he said. "I would be happy if that machine logged each person who opened it and used it, and if each data transfer was logged. "
Nisbet has a few other concerns. He doesn't like to see people giving their ballot to anyone but an elections official, or dropping it in any box except the official elections boxes. And he is a close observer of any traffic in and out of the elections building. He says he has no doubt that some people do violate the law, by voting for others. That's hard to detect, he says.  
Nisbet says his criticisms don't mean he doesn't trust Scott. He shouldn't have to trust anyone, he says. And he acknowledges that Scott has instituted many improvements in response to the questions raised.
"He has made massive and very good improvements, to allow us to watch more closely," Nisbet said of Scott. "He is going well beyond what's required of him."
If you want to check that your own vote has been counted properly, you can Track Your Ballot at the Secretary of State's website.
See full-size photos on the Skanner News' Facebook page

If a ballot is torn, discolored or can't be machine read, it is set aside to go to the Resolution Board. All four people at the opening board table must agree on the voter's intent and on what to do with the ballot.

The Resolution Board attempts to make original ballots readable by the machines, for example by making a check mark clearer. If a ballot can't be fixed, the resolution board completes a fresh ballot exactly as the original is filled out. The original ballot and the replacement are kept together with the same identifying number.

Multnomah County Elections director Tim Scott, allowed The Skanner News to visit the Red Room  where votes are counted, but only under close escort.

The Red Room is where ballots are run through machines, precinct by precinct.

The Unity Machine which tallies the completed vote is located at the north corner of the Red Room. At front is a box of USB drives, one for each precinct.

The USB port on the front of the Unity Machine is sealed with red security tape. The same tape is used to cover a port at the back of the machine

Observers outside the Red Room can watch elections officials tally votes and view the eight security cameras that record everything that happens in the room

Inside the elections building voters can ask for a ballot in person. If your ballot has been damaged you can get a fresh one. Scott says there are 68 different ballots this year. Which one you need depends on where you live.


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