Ohio is an election battleground state with perennial problems at the polls. So what have election officials in some precincts of the state been doing to keep their voting machines safe from tampering?
Taking the machines home with them and stashing them in their garages in the days before a big election.
If it sounds like something pulled straight out of an episode of Saturday Night Live, or Borat for that matter, it’s not. The practice has become so widespread that it even has a nickname, “sleepovers.”
Ohio, you may remember, has plenty of reason to be particularly vigilant about the security of its voting machines. The state has been a frequent battleground not only for presidential candidates, but also for lawyers and party representatives who have tangled over accusations of election fraud and concerns about paperless voting machines that incorporate new technology. After the 2004 presidential election, in which Ohio narrowly went to President Bush, some inspectors said they found signs of tampering in a number of precincts throughout the state.
Many local election officials who defend the “sleepover” practice say it makes it easier for them to transport the machines to polling sites, and that it allows them to keep an eye on the machines. But their critics call that nonsense, and argue that allowing people to take voting machines home with them — where they can access them at any time, and potentially hack into them — is the very definition of a security risk.
One of those critics is Ohio’s secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, who has pointed to reports of poll workers casting ballots on machines in their homes. With Ohio expected to be another critical battleground state in November, Ms. Brunner issued a directive today that put a stop to the controversial practice.
We want Ohio’s voters and the rest of the nation to see that we have prepared a transparent process of transporting voting equipment, ballots and supplies. That begins with security practices at boards of elections and polling places, documented chain of custody, and now procedures to make secure voting machine delivery.
As part of the directive, Ms. Brunner has also ordered that bipartisan teams handle and transport ballots, and that counties make sure that the machines are stored under certain conditions – like the right humidity — that help them function properly. As for the cost and convenience of transporting machines to election sites, officials will now be provided with federal money to help reimburse them for the costs of hiring moving companies. Ms. Brunner, a Democrat, says the new orders will ensure “security best practices” for the upcoming election.
Perhaps. But it remains to be seen what other practices that are, well, unusual, may still come to light.