CHARLES TOWN – As Jefferson Countians head to the polls Tuesday, Nikki Painter is doing what she does all year long – making sure the county’s elections run smoothly, fairly and accurately.
She has a message for anyone concerned about cyberhackers stealing, altering or disrupting their votes. “It doesn’t happen,” she said, nodding her head confidently.
Here’s why, Painter explained.
The county’s voting machines – touchscreen paper ballot generators and separate ballot readers – are designed to rely on paper ballots generated by the voters themselves at the polling stations, she said.
The stand-alone electronics within those machines are digitally isolated from any Internet connection or other device, which cuts off any remote-access avenue for a computer hacker, she added.
“They are completely self-contained,” Painter said of the voting machines, which were first used in May’s primary. “They don’t go out on any kind of networks. They don’t touch anything.”
For a hacker to make election mischief, he or she would have physical access to a county voter machine to deposit any malware on a ballot generator or ballot reader, Painter said.
For that reason, the county’s voting machines are also kept daily under constant lock and key and under video surveillance by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
On Election Day, those machines are continuously watched over by multiple election officials, Painter said. Each of the county’s 32 voting precincts have five poll workers.
Importantly, if not critically, the county’s voting system produces paper ballots back up any digital vote tallies, and those paper ballots are used to conduct random hand counts of precinct results, Painter said.
State law requires each county election to count the paper ballots of at least one random precinct to check the integrity of vote tabulated by the other ballot boxes, Painter said. The paper ballots must match the overall digital totals.
“If it doesn’t [match], we have to hand count the entire election,” she explained. “So there are things in place. If someone tried to mess with the results, we would be able to catch them.”
Painter has worked on Jefferson County elections and ballot referendums for the County Clerk’s office for 13 years. With the numerous headlines about electronic vote tampering by domestic and international hackers, she said she understands how everyday voters would wonder how their ballots were protected as they pad to the polls.
“Now it just seems that there’s such an emphasis on [digital] security that it’s just part of the process,” she said.