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Ballots drop Tuesday, and Summit County passes the vote-counting accuracy test

Summit County Clerk Logic and Accuracy Testing-DS 450 ballot tabulation equipment.jpg
Summit County logic and accuracy testing tabulation data being transferred to an encrypted stick which is sent to the Lieutenant Governor's office to be tallied after polls close on election day.

Utah requires all county clerks to perform a public vote-counting accuracy test before every election.

Utah has conducted mail-in voting for more than a decade, and with three weeks until the election on November 8, ballots are arriving in mailboxes across Summit County's 65 precincts.

That means it’s also time to conduct tests to confirm that voting machines are working properly.

Equipment testing runs hundreds of sample ballots from each voting precinct through a tabulator in a secure location in the clerk's office.

Results are compared with a master test list created by the programmer to simulate voted ballots. If errors are found in the test count, a state programmer repairs software errors before election day.

The counting and in-person voting machines, Express Vote, are not linked to the internet. In-person paper and mail-in ballots are tested on two machines, a regular machine and a backup. Backup equipment is used during an election if a malfunction occurs with regular equipment.

Summit County's Logic and Accuracy test lasted about two hours. County Democratic Party Chair Katy Owens Hubler observed the test and said she’s also been to many election centers throughout the country as an election consultant.

She said complaints about Utah's mail-in voting system are rare:
"Almost never. No, everybody loves it. And we all like voting by mail, having the time to be able to cast ballots at home. Yeah, I don't hear those concerns."

Karen Ballash is the Summit County Republican Party, chairperson. Ballash cast doubts on the vote counting accuracy in an email sent last month from the county Republican Party. She stated that same-day voting is not counted until two weeks after election day and that camera footage from ballot drop box locations is not ever reviewed by the clerk’s office.

Ballash did not attend Tuesday’s voter accuracy test but observed in an earlier test before the primary election in June.

Summit County Clerk Eve Furse said Ballash's letter isn't specific, but in response to concerns after the previous test, Furse has changed how ballots are secured once they arrive at her office.

"So, for instance, she talks about ballots that we put in the corner and don't count. This is the corner where they're locked."

Furse said the ballots received in the clerk's office, whether through the postal service or ballot box collections, have always been secured in a locked cabinet inside a locked room. No one can enter the vote-counting room unless accompanied by another person.

Furse said her offices now use a sticker to seal ballots in a box before putting them into the locked cabinet. She said multiple systems have always been used to ensure votes are not tampered with.

"In consideration of some of those comments, like I said, we now have the stickers, this is locked, that door is locked. It's on camera."

She said Ballash also had concerns about when ballots will get counted. Furse said ballots are recorded, signatures are verified, and then they go into the secure vote counting room. They’re run through counting machines every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the election season. Ballots that come to the clerk's office on election day after 2 p.m. are counted the following day.

After each counting day, data is put on a thumb drive and sent to the Lieutenant Governor's office through an encrypted server. No one has access to the vote tally until after polls close on election day.

Karen Ballash did not respond to KPCW’s request for comment.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.