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By Blake Spurney
NEWTON – About 200 people learned about security and the software and hardware used in elections at a forum held by the Conservative Women’s Forum of Harvey County Thursday evening.
When asked by moderator Sharon Skidmore about the greatest risks in elections, Rick Piepho, Harvey County’s secretary, said it was “the hacking of all heads,” which he believes is creating suspicion in the process.
“There’s no evidence, evidence that votes have been changed, at least I’d say,” he said.
Harvey County Commission chairman George “Chip” Westfall said Piepho is very involved in complying with electoral laws and is working with other employees to train election workers.
David Thorne, Sedgwick County’s Republican Party chairman and chief executive officer of Plain Solutions LLC, said hacking an electoral system was extremely rare.
“It just doesn’t happen,” he said.
Thorne received loud applause when he asked if people were excited about the state’s voter ID law. He said Kansas was one of the leading states in the field, which saved the state from other problems.
Thorne explained the difference between single and dual system voting machines. He said many states have switched to dual systems that keep a backup of the ballot. He also said that the greatest threat came from single system machines and that every county should be vigilant of future threats.
Thorne said coordination problems arise when processes are disrupted by people rather than machines. He said he has led teams of people trying to destroy voting machines. This is done as part of the US Electoral Assistance Commission certification process. He said EAC was the federal standard. He said that a voting machine manufacturer was stripped of certification after adding a flash drive to its software in violation of EAC rules.
Piepho said the county spent $ 270,000 on new voting machines this year. He said the county has been using the same equipment since 2006.
“I feel safe in our elective equipment and our process,” he said. “If I didn’t, we would have changed our equipment a long time ago.”
Piepho said a state law requires counties to use voting machines that are certified by both the EAC and the state. Kansas also requires that the machines not have a modem or be connected to the Internet. He said the new equipment had not been purchased because the machines had not yet been certified by the state.
Skidmore said the forum was made to improve the integrity of the elections as it was a big concern across the county. She said the comments her group received came from people who were concerned that their voice didn’t matter. Others have asked what they can do to help because they want to do something. She referred to a report by the Amistad Project, a conservative organization, alleging that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tried to influence the last election. She asked Piepho why he applied to the Center for Tech and Civic Life for a scholarship sponsored by Zuckerberg and asked if there were any requirements for using the $ 67,000 the county was receiving.
Piepho said the money is unconditional and that most of the money will be used for expenses related to COVID-19. He said he bought a voting slip scanning device for $ 18,000. He said CTCL never asked for bills.
Skidmore asked the panel about maintaining security at a polling station. She said former MP Tim Hodge went to a polling station two years ago.
Piepho said he heard from a supervisory judge that Hodge was not helping voters. Any candidate who does this is committing a crime, and if that is the case the police should have been called, he said.
Westfall said an election worker called him about the situation and described a poll worker leaving Hodge. He noted that there had been 300 provisional ballots in the last election. When an election worker thinks something is wrong, he has a voter fill out a preliminary ballot and these reports are sent to Piepho at the end of each day.
“This is the number one line of defense,” said Westfall.
Thorne said people are a big part of the problem when laws are broken. He said he would classify what he heard about it as electoral fraud.
Skidmore said some voters wanted paper ballots to be counted by hand, even if it took longer to get results.
Piepho said he couldn’t imagine counting ballots by hand like he used to. He said this method of counting votes has proven to be the least accurate method. He said his office must count votes based on voters’ intentions. If that intention is not clear for a particular race, that vote will not be counted. He said a district is randomly chosen by the state at each election and staff must count it by hand. This test is done to verify machine accuracy. Of the last three elections, two of the handcounts matched, and one was off by one vote due to the way the ballot was marked, he added.
Thorne said he doesn’t trust the human part as much as he trusts the machines.
State Rep. Stephen Owens updated two laws passed after the Kansas Legislature overruled Governor Laura Kelly’s veto. House Bill 2183 prohibits ballot collection and makes it illegal to change a postmark on a postal ballot. House Bill 2332 prohibits the governor from changing electoral laws by executive order and requires the district electoral bureau to keep a residential and postal address for each registered voter. It also expands the crime of election rigging.
Skidmore asked how the results of an election would be determined so quickly when machines weren’t connected to the internet.
Piepho said Kansas allowed its office to open early voting papers before the election was over. He said a certain amount must remain closed until after the polling stations close. He said his office started counting votes at 1 p.m. He invited those present to a public test of the voting machines, which he has to hold before the elections. He said he couldn’t remember the last time someone showed up for this.
“We test the machines thoroughly before they go anywhere and make sure they have no voices,” he said.