County probate judge addresses voting machine technical support and the likelihood of ballot interference

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – With hundreds of people filtering in and out of local polling locations, Madison County voting machines are getting a lot of use. In the past, some polls experienced technical difficulties regarding ballot submissions.

From ballots that wouldn’t scan into voting machines to machines going down completely.

Madison County Probate Judge, Frank Barger, said transparency and proactivity, during this election cycle, are key.

“Wednesday we had already tested and sealed every machine that’s being used in the election today,” Barger explained.

Each demographic potential polling issues could impact most was invited to a test run.

“We allowed the public, or anyone on the ballot, or the parties involved in this primary to come in and randomly select any machine, test any machine to ensure that its tabulating correctly,” said Barger.

One of the prominent issues in the last election cycle was swollen ballots.

“There are times when humidity is extremely high, and we have a great deal of rain that can cause ballots to swell,” said Barger. “Ballots didn’t necessarily directly take on moisture but they will swell, paper will swell. We’re not experiencing those issues today.”

The probate judge said he doesn’t expect any of the problems that occurred last election cycle to roll over into the present election cycle. Barger said its thanks to a few new people who’ve joined the team.

“I think one thing that we missed in 2018, that we’ve remedied in this election cycle is we’ve got to make sure we have the appropriate tech support,” said Barger. “So that if we have any machine issues, or any kind of ballot issues, we have the appropriate support systems to respond to those things.”

The county official said some Madison County polls had paper ballot machines jam Tuesday. He described the machines as sensitive and complicated.

The county official said the new tech support team made sure all of the jams were resolved in a timely manner.  No issues or major problems were reported on Tuesday.

But some Alabamians had a fear of election interference.

According to an online survey conducted by Critical Start, a cyber security company, in all 14 Super Tuesday states. 48 percent of voting-age Alabamians feared Tuesday’s election might be vulnerable to cyber threats.

Still 73 percent of the people who answered the survey believe the state is working to protect Alabama voters.

Officials from the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and even the FBI said they are monitoring certain states to make sure they are free from any election interference. Barger said the likelihood for any foreign interference in Madison county is very low.

“Foreign interfence in a local election, the possibility would be slim to none,” he said. “In that none of our voting machines, nothing involved in the tabulation process is connected to any outside entity.”

Madison County utilizes physical paper ballots, and once complete they’re scanned into a ballot box.

Barger said the ballot equipment is not connected to any form of internet, so its nearly impossible to hack.

Some feared the use of electronic devices, even during voter check-in, could cause trouble.

But Barger assured voters the equipment is in no way linked to ballot submissions.

“The poll pads that we’re using for the check-in process, there is no direct tie from that poll pad to voting,” explained Barger. “There’s no connection whatsoever. You’re still voting on a paper ballot you’re feeding it into a machine.”

He said the only system that could’ve been compromised would’ve been the voter registration database.

The secretary of state’s office monitors that system and Barger said he commends the work the office does to secure the system.

The probate judge said the state and county had voter security meetings way ahead of the current election cycle.

“I’ve had an opportunity on several occasions, in advance and planning for the cycle, to meet with the FBI and other agencies about our planning, our process, our security,” said Barger. “So, yes there’s collaboration. But that’s really managed at the state level.”

Making sure every vote counts.

In a statement from the FBI, the agency said the level or coordination and communication between, federal, state, and local government agencies is stronger than its ever been during an election cycle.

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