• This two part series will detail how Siskiyou County Clerk Colleen Setzer and the Siskiyou County Elections Office works to secure voter information and election integrity.
National attention is focused on how Russian government sponsored entities worked to influence the 2016 elections and attempted to hack into the election systems of 21 states. Citizens all over the country are concerned about the integrity of their local voting systems.
In the US, voting systems and the handling of voter information vary from state to state and even county by county. With 3,142 counties and county-equivalent entities overseeing voting using dozens of different electronic voting systems, hacking an election would be complicated. Election integrity becomes a very local issue.
The question for Siskiyou County residents is, “How safe is our local system?” According to County Clerk Colleen Setzer, “Our voting systems and voter information is safe. This is a large part of my job, and I take it very seriously.”
Siskiyou County’s handling of voter information is closely tied to the California Secretary of State’s Office and controlled by state law. When new voter information is recorded at the Siskiyou County Clerk’s office, it is passed on through secure servers in real time to the Secretary of State’s office.
The real-time connection means that when a voter re-registers at a new address within California, the old location is deactivated. By law, the county clerk cannot purge a name from the voter files without a direct request from the voter, or an official death notice. Voters can request in writing to be removed from the local voter list.
“If a resident receives a sample ballot for someone who no longer lives at that address they should mark it ‘moved’ and stick it back in the mail to return it to the county,” instructed Setzer. “We mail a postcard requesting an address change, and wait for the information to be returned by the post office. That postcard may trail a voter for months before it’s returned to us. Once we receive confirmation of the voter’s new address, we can purge their name from our files.”
A scanned copy of the voter’s registration form including their signature is stored on secure servers at the County. For people who register online, they are able to use the signature on their driver’s license or opt to have the Clerk’s Office send them a signature card to sign and return. “The signature we have on file is our way of authenticating voters at the polls and through our vote by mail system.
“Voter information is protected but not completely confidential,” explained Setzer. “Voter lists can be purchased from the Clerk’s Office for use by governmental and political entities and organizations. I receive requests nearly every day, and reject any that do not meet those requirements. A person or organization that purchases a list must sign an affidavit stating that they will not sell, share or use the list for any other purposes. This is the law and there are consequences for ignoring this.”
Setzer confirmed that lists are shared with the courts, but also noted that anyone who has a California Driver’s License or Identification Card will also be added to potential jury lists. “Fear of being tapped to sit on a jury should never stop someone from exercising their responsibility and privilege to register and vote,” said Setzer.
How safe are Siskiyou County’s voting machines?
The County Clerk said the voting machines that were purchased in 2000 passed security tests implemented by then Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Setzer was concerned when the Microsoft operating system they used became outdated, which could potentially cause a system failure.
She researched certified systems built on current technology, and took her recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. “I was able to build the Supervisors’ support for a complete update of our voter systems,” noted Setzer. “Picking a new system was complicated, requiring years of research and work with the State of California. Any new system needed to be certified both federally and by the State of California. We chose the Dominion ImageCast Voting System. It incorporates an optical scan with a paper ballot backup. The Dominion machines were in place for the 2016 elections.”
The ImageCast system handles multiple special needs including audio, screen resolution functions, and sip and puff marking. “Dominion has created special needs ballot marks that look like hand marked ballots,” explained Setzer. “Ballots are completely anonymous, and no ballot marked by a special needs voter should stand out as different. This system assures that.”
Before an election, the completed ballot is programmed by a certified IT professional. It is thoroughly reviewed and checked by the Election Office staff. “We mark ballots in random patterns, feed them through our optical scanning voting machines and thoroughly check to be sure the results are an exact match to our test patterns, explained Setzer. “We spend about four hours per voting machine preparing for each election.”
Between elections, the voting machines are stored in a locked room at the County Clerk’s Office.
• Part 2 will look at how ballots are handled from the time they are sent in the mail, or slipped into the optical scanner at a polling place on election day.