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County works to ensure voting data integrity

Voters place completed ballots into M100 precinct level voting machines at the Jamestown Civic Center, where an optical scanner records voting data to memory cards. Masaki Ova / Sun file photo

Voter fraud and secure voting machine data are contentious issues that most recently have been raised by presidential candidate Donald Trump, but the Stutsman County auditor's office says the county and state are prepared for the Nov. 8 general election.

North Dakota does not have voter registration, and a federal court ruled against its voter ID law in August. The state will continue to allow four verification methods to vote.

"These forms of ID must have the voter's name, current residential street address and date of birth," said Josh Smaage, director of information technology for Stutsman County.

A driver's license, a non-driver's ID, a tribal ID or a voter's affidavit are acceptable. A long-term care certificate from a nursing home or facility where the voter resides will also register the voter, Smaage said.

"The big thing is to make sure that every vote gets counted," said Scott Sandness, chair of District 12 for the North Dakota Democratic-NPL. "We are happy that the court intervened and did the right thing to overturn a voter ID law that provided a solution for a non-existent problem."

Stutsman County says voting data is also secure.

All 53 counties in North Dakota use the M100 precinct level voting machine from Election Systems & Software LLC. Completed ballots are fed into an optical scanner that records voting data to memory cards.

Anthony Provitola, a Florida attorney, filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in September. Provitola alleges that the M100 and similar voting tabulators are at risk from proprietary software, which could allow observation or manipulation of data as it is transmitted to another election management entity.

"You don't have to believe it occurs but you just don't have to have that risk when the risk is totally unnecessary," Provitola said by phone Tuesday.

Election Systems & Software machines are used in 30 states and have 38 percent of the market, he said. Competitors are using the same software, he said.

Smaage said North Dakota takes an extra step to ensure data security. The counties keep the M100 modems offline and remove the internal memory cards when the polls close at 7 p.m., he said. Then each precinct brings the memory cards to the Stutsman County Courthouse.

The data is loaded onto two separate laptops, Smaage said. The first laptop is not connected to the internet and the second is used to transmit election results to the North Dakota secretary of state, when it is downloaded and matched against the offline computer data.

"The laptop with no network connectivity is to ensure that the results are untouched," Smaage said.

The concern about voting tabulation machines and electronic voting has risen to the point of paranoia, said Delores Rath, chair of the North Dakota GOP District 12 in Jamestown. She attended the public test of the M100 equipment on Oct. 14 and said the process is sound.

"Linda Chadduck and the (county) auditor's office are on top of it," Rath said.

Sandness said he also attended the M100 testing and the sample ballots matched up.

"If it were rigged then North Dakota would need to have a conspiracy of 52 individual counties and that is just not happening," he said.

Early voting and Election Day voter registration information is matched with an electronic pollbook, Smaage said. The North Dakota Department of Transportion allows voters to update incorrect addresses to their driver's licenses online at https://apps.nd.gov/dot/dlts/dlos/addressDriverSearch.htm.

"Since the database our pollbooks use is generated from DOT records, we will already have that address change recorded in our system," Smaage said.

If not updated online, a voter with an incorrect address on a driver's license will need to sign a voter's affidavit, he said. This form will be used to verify eligibility after the election.

"With the electronic pollbooks we use we are also able to stop voters from receiving more than one ballot," Smaage said. "The database is updated frequently with all absentee voter information as well."

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