Taking care of polling machines is a very important and never-ending task for Glynn County’s Board of Elections.
Elections and registration staff wasn’t finished when general runoff voting ended in December, they still had 193 voting machines to check over before locking up the machines and getting ready for the next race.
Glynn County didn’t have much of a problem with faulty machines during the 2016 election cycle. While Elections and Registration Superintendent Tina Edwards could not supply the exact number, less than five machines had to be sent to the manufacturer for repairs. Most of those problems were caused by human error, said board chairman Ruby Robinson. In fact, the vast majority of machines sent in are for faulty batteries and the occasional malfunctioning motherboard, she said.
Most of the machines the board of elections uses are almost 15 years old, and are beginning to show it. The board was given 16 brand new machines, but they are usually reserved for early voting, as there are only two polling stations open for it. During the general election proper, most people vote on the old machines.
The board recently discussed contacting manufacturer Elections Systems & Software to get guidance on anything more they can do to maintain the machines.
Until that guidance is given, elections staff follows a clear set of procedures. The machines have to be cleaned and tested prior to and at the conclusion of every election, and the cases have to be inspected and possibly replaced. Cracks in the case, faulty hinges or a worn out electrical plug ports could mean the polling machine itself will have to be removed and placed into a new case, elections and registration supervisor Tina Edwards said.
Testing involves making sure the machines’ touchscreen controls are calibrated properly and that the machines are correctly tallying ballots. Should the machine list more than zero ballots before the polls open, they are set aside to be checked by manufacturer, Edwards said. Test votes are also cast by the thousands, and often more test ballots are cast than there are voters in the machines’ assigned district to ensure accuracy.
Between elections, the machines’ batteries are charged every quarter and the batteries are replaced every two years. The machines are meticulously cared for, down to regulating the temperature of the room they are in, according to Edwards.
Despite age of the machines, Edwards and board chairman Ruby Robinson are more than confident in the integrity of Glynn County’s voting system. Much of that confidence comes from the care they take in ensuring the security of the public’s ballots and the voting system implemented by Georgia on the state level, requiring all counties to use the same casting and counting methods.
The ballot count is something the elections staff takes particular care to check. When a machine is tested, calibrated and cleared by tech staff, it’s sealed with a numbered red tag. Once at the polling location, the red seal is broken and the vote count is checked.
If the machine lists any more than zero votes, the machine isn’t used again until it can be checked by the manufacturer. Once the polls close, the memory cards containing the ballots cast are removed and taken to the board of elections office to be tabulated and the case is sealed with a blue numbered tag, according to Edwards. Blue tags are used to seal cases every night during early voting.
Further safeguarding the process is Georgia’s has a double certification system, by which machines have to be confirmed and checked out by the federal government first. They then are certified by the state before being returned to the county, Robinson said.