Under fluorescent lights, a narrow hallway in the basement of the Teton County building transformed into a routine voting machine test site on Tuesday afternoon.
The Teton County Republican and Democratic party chairpersons, alongside News&Guide staff, observed as four deputy county clerks explained and performed the official process for preparing 12 county ballot machines for primary election day.
Teton County bought the voting machines 10 years ago from Election Systems and Software, a main distributor of election system equipment. The secretary of state’s office has recently contracted with the election system distributor so all counties in Wyoming now use the same machines.
The voting machine is secured with a number of seals, six on the outside, three on the inside, each with a corresponding serial number for careful tracking. Clerks first write the serial numbers of each seal into a Seal Log Book, which is kept with that machine to monitor its “chain of custody.”
Chief Deputy County Clerk Kellie Dickerson unclipped the first seal with red and black pliers. Some seals are locks, some are like zip ties, but even the zip tie-like seals are stored after use.
Machines are secured with a key that works on all ballot machines. Two sets of keys exist and are closely surveilled. The clerks unlocked the machine, which revealed a screen.
They printed a configuration report, which details the device’s serial number and other properties, as well as whether it is plugged into power. The machines will be charging overnight before Election Day, then plugged into power at voting sites, just in case.
Election results from each machine are stored on media sticks, which look like thumb-size flash drives. The clerks plugged a media stick into the voting machine to erase any data that could be left on the machine and to redownload the new election information.
The media stick wasn’t reading at first, as the alert, “Cannot mount ESS memory device,” flashed on the screen.
“We gotta get all of the kinks out first; that’s why we test,” Dickerson said.
After 15 minutes and a few tries, the media stick mounted.
The clerks then entered the election code into the machine, which printed a “ballot status accounting report.” The report should show zeros beside each vote tally.
Election Systems and Software provides a test deck with predetermined results, which allows for testing of the electronic count against a hand count. The county clerks opted to include hand-marked ballots as well, in order to “double-test” the machine.
Mary Martin, the chair of the Teton County Republican Party, volunteered to feed dozens of individual ballots through the machine, which took around 10 minutes. The ballots fall into a blue box in the stomach of the machine, which enables the papers to fall flat and remain organized.
The clerks intentionally marked some of the ballots incorrectly to see if the machine could catch over-voting or skipped entries. The machine is made to help voters ensure their ballots are received as intended.
After the machine counted all 136 ballots, the clerks printed a “voting results report” and compared it against the “test deck results report.” The party chairs, plus News&Guide staff, confirmed alongside the clerks that the reports were synchronized.
The clerks then documented in the Seal Log Book when and why the seals on the voting machine were broken. In this case it was for a “DS200 public test.” On election day, the seal numbers are transferred to an election day manual, so election judges know the details of the machines on hand.
After 7 p.m. on election night, the media sticks from the voting machines are plugged into a hardened computer, which is a computer that does not have internet access. The results are then summarized and sorted by polling place and precincts.
Election judges, who must represent both political parties, examine every field in the voting results report and cross reference it against the test deck results report. If both match, judges will select on the screen a button that says, “You have successfully cleared the vote total.” The machine is then shut down.
This is Mary Martin’s first election as Republican Party chair, but she has experience with working as an election judge in the past.
“I can’t speak to other counties or people who work elections,” said Martin at the voting machine test. “But I have confidence that Teton County polling is fairly done.”
She is proud of the fact that clerks and election judges of both parties work together and use a number of verification methods to make sure the election is sound. One verification method she felt was worth mentioning was that people handing-out ballots at the polling stations also keep track of how many ballots they give out and which ones get spoiled.
“When I ran for county commissioner, it didn’t even dawn on me that elections could be unfairly run,” Martin said. “I would say more than most Republicans are confident in Teton County’s ballot counting system.”
Maggie Hunt, chair of the Teton County Democratic Party, also observed the county’s voting machine testing. She expressed her confidence in the state of Wyoming’s election system as a former election judge.
“I know that the secretary of state has 23 outstanding clerks,” Hunt said. “I’m confident Wyoming has the absolute highest of election integrity.”