voting machines

Elections Coordinator Cynthia Jaqua sets up election machines at the Comal County Elections Office on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019.

It’s a question many in the county have asked — how secure are Comal County’s voting machines?

Although Comal County updated its voting machine equipment to the latest technology earlier this year, many have wondered if the machines are hackable or how secure they can actually be without a paper-backed system in place.

But Comal County wants to assure voters heading into the 2020 election their votes are safe — and the county’s newest voting devices were purchased with security in mind. 

“We have the Verity System by Hart Interactive,” said Cynthia Jaqua, elections coordinator for Comal County. “Those have only been used in our spring elections, we just got those in January.”

The 275 machines are touch screens, and cost the county a discounted $1.42 million for upgrading older Hart technology.  

“We first purchased Hart in 2015, and at that time Verity was in the making,” Jaqua said. “In our contract with Hart, it said once the Verity system was certified, we could purchase it at a discount and that way we would have the most up-to-date voting equipment.”

A recent article by POLITICO questioned the vulnerability of the Verity System, however the system isn’t connected to the Internet and votes are extremely secure, Jaqua said.

“All Verity workstations and voting devices operate in what is known as Kiosk Mode,” states the Verity security features information. “In kiosk mode, users can only work in the Verity voting applications, thus preventing access to the desktop or operating system of a computer or device.”

Other security features include a secure boot up process, whitelisting (which limits applications permitted to run on a system) and tamper evidence.

“All Verity software on Verity workstations and voting devices is tamper evident; any attempts to alter the function of the software would be evident when tested,” Verity information states. 

The ballot choices of each voter are stored in the Verity system as CRVs — Cast Vote Records. 

“To protect voter privacy, CVRs are not stored in any discernable order,” Verity information reads. “CVRs do not contain voter information connecting a ballot to a specified voter.”

Check-in’s with required ID assure no one can vote in more than one location, Jaqua said. 

“We also update the list of anyone who passes away in the county regularly, so people can’t use those identities,” Jaqua said. 

If need be, the Verity system could switch to paper-backing, however it saves counties money to be fully digital, she added.

“Some people believe paperless is more secure, some believe paper is more secure — it’s just personal preference,” she said.

When votes are submitted on the Verity System, they are securely stored on a “vDrive” or a USB drive used to transfer ballots from the device to software for counting, according to Verity’s website.

“vDrives also carry the audit log for their associated device to ensure voting remains fair,” information states.

A “key” is programmed for each election and is a two-factor authentication process requiring the collector to have the key and know a new password to access the votes.

“Only when the system authenticates the Verity key and password will it allow the operation to continue,” Verity’s website states.

 

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