Harvey County clerk defends voting machine security

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NEWTON, Kan. (KAKE) -

"I'm pretty confident that they're doing what they're supposed to do," said Rick Piepho, the Harvey County clerk.  

He's defending the safety of the county's election machines after a national organization called Harvey and seven other Kansas counties out for having outdated equipment.

It's all about keeping your vote safe on Election Day.  Piepho says his machines are likely safer than some of the newer ones.

"To me, these machines are in some ways maybe more secure.  There's no way they can talk to each other.  WiFi didn't even exist when they were created," he explained.  "So they can't have WiFi in them.  It wasn't there.  So they have no ability to talk to each other."

Meaning, it's tough to hack them. He says anyone trying to get into the voter data in Harvey County on Election Day would have to hack each of the county's 50 machines individually.

"If you wanted to hack it, you'd have to be in front of each machine and you'd have to be there for a certain amount of time," Piepho said.  "And you're not going to have people that they'd let go from machine to machine."

He adds you'd have to have a key that looks like a square block to get into the machines to begin with, a key pollworkers never let out of their sight.

Piepho admits the voting machines Harvey County voters use are thirteen years old.  But, he says, that doesn't mean they're a danger to your vote.

"If we average two elections a year, that's about 25 elections this machine has done.  How many other things do you get rid of after you use them 25 times?" he asked.  "There's a lot of talk of the security of them.  But I've never seen any proof that any of them have ever been hacked, that votes have ever been changed."

This defense comes after the American Association for the Advancement of science urged Harvey, Sumner, Geary, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Wallace and Wilson counties to buy new machines, mostly because their current machines don't create a paper trail of votes cast.

"Yes, these machines do not have a voter verifiable paper trail, which is what everybody's suggesting now," Piepho said.

He adds that ever since they got electronic voting machines they have also always offered a paper ballot in Harvey County.  Originally, about 60% of folks preferred to vote on the machine, he says, but in recent t years that number has switched.  With increased attention to election security, about 60% of people are now preferring the hard copy ballot. 

"So that is a paper trail.  If they don't trust or don't like or whatever reason they don't want to vote electronic, it's not a problem," Piepho said.

He says his only election security worry is someone hacking the county website, where he reports the results.

"If something were to happen to our network, it would be isolated from that equipment.  I could still run an election," Piepho said.  "The only part that could maybe be changed would be the results I would post to the website, cause that's the website.  It wouldn't change the actual results, just the results that people could see."

Piepho says he's willing to buy new machines but the county can't afford to pay for them this year.  They would need help from the state or federal government.

"To replace those 50 machines with 50 new machines is about $300,000.  That's a big impact.  Are my citizens, who elect me, are they ready for me to spend $300,000 when they're currently getting accurate results?  And timely?" he asked. 

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