MARION — It’s a week and a half before Election Day, and Williamson County Clerk and Recorder Amanda Barnes is feeding ballots into machines called ES&S M100s — precinct scanners that tabulate votes.
County polling officials are required by law to hold public tests of voting system hardware ahead of every election. Barnes is making sure the machines catch mistakes on the ballots.
“If you undervote a certain office — the state offices — the machine will beep, alerting the voters that they’ve undervoted,” Barnes explains. “We’re testing for undervotes, overvotes — everything.”
Once all the ballots are tabulated, the machines print out receipts with vote totals for each race. Next, staff members remove the memory cards from the machines.
“These are what the judges bring back on Election Night,” Barnes said, holding up one of the memory cards. “They pop them out of their machine, bring them to the courthouse, and then we upload them to our system.”
The clerk’s office has already conducted this test several times in the run-up to Election Day, and there are other safeguards in place to ensure that the scanners are working correctly, including randomized state testing and testing by the software manufacturer.
“We don’t want any last-minute stuff. We test everything. … And then, you always have the paper ballot at the end of the day, if there’s any question,” Barnes says.
For federal elections, the county clerk’s office retains paper ballots through two federal elections in case there’s a request for a recount. After that, the clerk must get permission from the state to dispose of them.
Allegations of voter fraud
In recent weeks, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly alleged that the U.S. election is “rigged” and has refused to say whether he will accept the results on Nov. 8. But experts say voter fraud is extremely rare.
Ken Menzel, general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said his office has received a number of calls from voters expressing concerns about the possibility of a rigged election.
He said he can’t speak to the media’s treatment of candidates, but the state’s vote tabulation equipment is thoroughly tested to meet federal standards, and there’s almost no chance it’s faulty.
“Through the years, each election in the state has generated some small number of individual contests for offices that have generated recount requests, but none has ever revealed any problem with the tabulation equipment in Illinois,” Menzel said.
Touchscreen machines do sometimes need to be recalibrated after they’re shipped. If a touchscreen doesn’t seem to be properly reflecting your choices in the voting booth, you should report it to an election official, Menzel said.
Trump has also publicly called on supporters to sign up as poll observers in order to “stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”
Menzel said that candidates in political parties have long had the ability to enlist the help of poll watchers, but he hopes that Trump’s supporters undergo proper training.
“I don’t think anyone in the election administration business has a problem with poll watchers in general, but they should be trained as to watch they should be looking for, what they need to be looking for. They should be familiar with their rights as poll watchers — and they should behave in a way that adds to the credibility of poll watching,” he said.
Poll watchers shouldn’t target certain groups in order to suppress their votes or otherwise try to prevent registered, eligible voters from voting, Menzel said.