How secure is casting your vote in Centre County?

Checks and balances keeps voting in Centre County secure

Centre County commissioner Michael Pipe talks about how secure voting is in the county on Election Day.
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Centre County commissioner Michael Pipe talks about how secure voting is in the county on Election Day.

With concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 election still simmering and a mandate from Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres for all Pennsylvania counties to purchase voting machines that leave paper trails, residents of Centre County might have reason to wonder if the midterm elections are secure.

“There are many different checks and balances that occur” on Election Day, said Centre County Commissioner Chairman Michael Pipe.

Centre County residents in each precinct elected a judge of elections, majority inspector and minority inspector to ensure voter fraud isn’t happening and election tallies are correct, said Pipe.

“You’re gonna see them handing you ballots, checking you in, making sure your name is in the book,” he said.

If you are a new voter or are registered to vote in a new area, there are a few things to remember to make things run more smoothly.

“If it’s your first time voting at that precinct, you need to show some form of ID,” said Pipe.

That identification could be anything from a voter ID slip or state driver’s license to a utility bill or gun permit.

Even if your name is not on the voter list or the poll workers cannot find your name in the poll book, but you think you may be registered, you may request a provisional ballot.

“That ballot goes through a huge amount of scrutiny” to verify whether that person is a legitimate voter, said Pipe.

As for voting machines, Pipe said, there are many ways the county ensures they are secure.

“The great thing about our machines is that we have no connection ... to the internet or to any other device,” he said.

All 100 voting machines in Centre County’s 91 precincts are standalone, said Pipe, meaning they do not “communicate” with other voting machines by way of an internet or cell tower connection.

Certain election security concerns have been raised in other states where online voting is offered, but Centre County only offers paper ballot in-person or absentee voting.

“In other counties, the vast majority ... do not vote on paper, they use touch screens,” said Pipe.

Those counties, he said, will be more affected by Gov. Wolf’s paper-trail voting machine mandate, because they will have to transition their systems back to using paper ballots. Centre County plans to make the transition a smooth one, with voting machines similar to the kind they have now.

Voting machine security is a multi-step system, said Pipe. Voters feed their paper ballots into a machine where they are scanned. The ballots are kept in the machine and the votes are sent to a card within the voting machine — both of which are kept “under lock and key,” he said.

“That key is held by the judge of elections before the election, during the election and after the election,” said Pipe.

Two people must accompany the ballots and the card back to the Willowbank Building after the election, where they are kept in a secure room in the basement of the building. There is only one access point in and out of the room.

Additionally, at the end of the night, the machine at each polling place prints out the voting results, where they will be posted on the wall for public viewing.

Pipe, who said he would try not to get too excited about voting, had one last message to impart to Centre County residents.

“If you don’t vote, you’re letting other people speak for you. And I think that’s something that should excite people to get out and vote,” he said. “We live in the greatest country, and it’s because of our elections.... (Voting is) a really humbling thing to do.”

Polls are open for 13 hours on Tuesday and there are five races on the ballot in Centre County.