Final Days Before Election Day Are Spent Double Checking Voting Accuracy

By Carrie Jung
Published: Monday, October 31, 2016 - 8:37am
Updated: Tuesday, November 1, 2016 - 10:57am
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Carrie Jung/KJZZ
A Maricopa County election official runs mail-in ballots through a counting machine in 2016.
(Photo by Carrie Jung - KJZZ)
State and county elections officials test Maricopa County election equipment.
(Photo by Carrie Jung - KJZZ)
All ballots and memory packs in Maricopa County are delivered and processed in the Ballot Tabulation Center.

Friday afternoon was a busy one at the Maricopa County Electronic Tabulation Center in downtown Phoenix. County and state elections officials are running a series of mock ballots through county voting machines.

This process, known as the logic and accuracy test, is standard procedure in Arizona during election season and it's one of a string of security measures the county must go through to ensure state vote counts are accurate.

"And the results that come off the machines have to match what they have premarked," explained Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell.

If they don’t match, officials have to determine why the discrepancy occurred and fix it. State law requires all voting equipment from each county to pass one of these accuracy tests before the general election.

"We want the public to be confident that their vote, if it should have counted, is counted. If it shouldn’t have counted, didn’t," added Karen Osborne, Maricopa County's director of elections. 

She's been involved in Arizona’s elections in some form since the 1970s. She said the process has evolved a lot since then, especially in the last 15 - 20 years.

"It’s no longer just transporting ballots from point A to point B with the security of two people," Osborne explained. "Now it is multiple people doing multiple jobs and each one has to prove the other correct."

Take in-person voting on election day, for example. After making your selections, your ballot gets scanned through what’s known as an Insight machine. The machine records and tallies your vote in a memory pack. It also saves the paper ballot as a back up. At the end of the night, those will be transported by separate teams to one of 20 ballot substations. Along for the ride in those caravans are someone from the county recorder’s office and two poll workers from different parties.

Maricopa County Recorder’s office spokesperson Elizabeth Bartholomew explained each sub site must get the ballots, the memory packs and the electronic poll sign-in book from each of their assigned polling places before they can head downtown and into the ballot tabulation center.

"Everything is run in that room," she said. "Nothing is run at the polls, at the polling places. Nothing is run through wifi through internet, so that way these votes are the most secure they can possibly be."

Poll sign-in books must match the number of votes cast at a precinct and the state takes it one step further. Each county must also hand count two percent of the precincts for one final accuracy check. If you mailed in your ballot, well, it too has passed through several layers of audits before it reaches county scanners. The rooms where they’re prepped for tabulation are also under 24 hour video surveillance that can be viewed by the public online.

With so many security measures and accuracy checks Osborne said claims by Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump that the election might be rigged, are simply not true in Arizona.

"There are so many checks and balances on this system," she said. "It continues to prove itself on a daily basis."

Back at the Ballot Tabulation Center in downtown Phoenix, the accuracy test has just wrapped up and Arizona Secretary of State spokesperson Janine Petty said, Maricopa County passed.

"The results that we had matched the results that came out of the machines," she said. "So we signed off."

Which means from now until election day, this room will be filled with the constant buzz of early ballot scanning. Those initial results will be released after the polls close on Nov. 8th.

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