KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Election Security

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Between elections many voters don't think about the safety of their ballot.  But elections officials, from your county to the state and the federal government, are thinking about it, especially since the 2016 presidential election.  And that means some changes are headed your way this November and next.

"I really believe people need to do their homework," Bonnie Bauer said.

She and Gary Harris were out walking Sedgwick County Park Sunday, when they stopped to discuss election security with KAKE News Investigator Pilar Pedraza.

Their top concerns, voter identification to prevent voter fraud.  They're not as worried about  the security of election machines or foreign efforts to sow election misinformation on social media.

"I don't think there's going to be anyway to control it," said Gary Harris. "Unless you just do away with the internet."

"I think that my vote is pretty secure," Bauer said.  "However, I do feel like if someone wants to hack into any system they can, in this day and age. But I don't go to the polls and worry about my vote."

Those questions do have election officials across the state worrying about election security.  What will it take to protect your vote, making sure it counts? Where are the state's weak points?

"I think those are valid questions.  And I think a consumer, a voter should be aware," Bauer said.

They're questions Kansas' new Secretary of State says he's spent the last year trying to answer.

"We're doing a top to bottom review of where those weak spots are," said Scott Schwab.  "Whether it's the hard drives and the systems inside the office or the voting machines they use out in the polling places."

For example, in the last week a national organization called out several Kansas counties for having older machines that don't provide a paper trail of your votes.  While elections officials in those counties defended the security of those machines, Schwab has a particular kind of voting machine he'd like to see in every county.

"The more up to date voting machines, at which you get a three point verification," he said.  "You get a paper ballot, you get the typical ones and zeros verification, the digital version, than a digital image. So you have three different ways to verify a ballot."

He says a paper trail alone is no better than a purely digital record.

"You can't hack a sheet of paper, no.  But you can destroy it.  You can burn it.  And then you don't have another backup version of that," Schwab explained.

He says the state is sitting on federal money he plans to use to help counties get those machines.

In 2018, Kansas got a $4.6 million Help America Vote grant.  The plan then Secretary of State Kris Kobach submitted called for spending that money on new machines, cyber security programs, election auditing, and voter registration systems.

Schwab says he's taken election security a step further.

"I'm the first Secretary of State in state history to have Homeland Security clearance," he added.

Because, he says, the state's election system is under attack.

"It's being attacked or you see this weaponization of our elections, now, in our election systems," he said.  "So  we have to work coordinated with the Department of Justice, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and with Homeland Security and make sure our systems are protected."

Those attacks often in the form of social media mis-information, Schwab says, designed to create chaos and distrust in the integrity of the election system.

"Don't trust everything you see on Facebook, but you can trust that certified count," Schwab said.

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.

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