Hacking and vote rigging not a worry in Luzerne County, election official says

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
Crispell -

Luzerne County’s election system has multiple security protections and checks and balances to prevent computer hackers or other saboteurs from altering election results, said county Election Director Marisa Crispell.

“I have no reservations,” Crispell said Friday, echoing recent statements from Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes.

Election officials across the country have been speaking out on the subject in light of high-profile cases of cyber attacks and presidential contender Donald Trump’s talk of a rigged election.

According to Crispell:

Tests are publicly performed before the county’s electronic voting machines are shipped out to make sure they are properly calibrated and functioning. This testing also includes a mock election involving all candidates and questions on the ballot to ensure the machines are correctly tabulating results.

Ballots for each polling place are loaded onto devices the county calls “personal electronic ballots,” or PEBs, that are then inserted into the voting machines at polling places on election day.

The judge of elections at each polling place receives a supply box containing the PEBs in sealed bags along with other election materials. The boxes are wrapped in straps, and election workers must cut them open in the presence of their majority and minority inspectors.

The voting machines are standalone devices that are not connected to the internet and don’t electronically “talk” to each other.

Before any voters are admitted on election day, election workers run another test on each machine to verify no votes are on the machine and generate a paper receipt known as a “zero tape” that is publicly posted.

Someone with a fake PEB device — assuming one is available and could be smuggled in — would have no success using it to log illegal votes because the machines would only read devices with current ballots coded by the county election office. Only one election supervisor in the county election office has the qualification code needed to program ballots on the devices that will be recognized by the machines.

Another receipt-like tape is printed and hung in polling places after the polls close showing the total votes cast and all results.

Election workers remove and seal up the PEBs and a flash card in each machine that serves as a computerized memory of the results and personally deliver them to the county election office in Wilkes-Barre along with another copy of the paper results posted at polling places.

The machines themselves also have a mother drive that serves as a memory backup of the results, and these machines are wrapped in a numbered seal as evidence of no tampering in case that data must be accessed later.

The county election office results tabulating system is a password-protected, standalone network that can’t be connected to the internet by law.

Crispell’s office periodically loads results onto a USB flash drive that is used to send result updates through the internet to the state and county website.

As a precaution, the county won’t reinsert this flash drive to a computer in the county’s election network until it has passed an anti-virus scan.

The flash cards also are used to perform random audit checks after the election.

Cortes heavily criticized implications of election fraud, saying such claims are “without merit” and “lack any credence or proof within the modern history of elections” in the state or country.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.