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Rick Weible (center) addresses the county board and members of the public during Tuesday’s Sherburne County Commissioner meeting. (Photo by Ken Francis.)

Debate over election security continues

The question of whether or not the election system is “broken” in Sherburne County resumed Tuesday morning during the county board meeting. And for many, there are still unanswered questions.

About 100 people crowded the board room, many to either speak at the open forum or listen to testimony about what could go wrong with the Dominion voting system used in the county.

Rick Weible of Midwest Swamp Watch was the first to speak at the forum. His main point was that according to Minnesota Statute 206.58, the county’s software update was considered a new system and is subject to specific testing guidelines. He said he had evidence from the test lab and language from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to prove his point.

“The system you’re going to is defined as a new system, and those pieces are supposed to have the 60-day notice by the  municipalities and six weeks of public testing,” he said.

His contention was that the county board and other decision-makers were committing a crime by violating that statute.

“We are trying to help you from committing a felony and I would encourage you to ask questions of me in your meeting,” he said.

Other speakers talked about outdated software and components in the Dominion system, including the latest $500,000 expenditure for equipment that may already be obsolete and will no longer be supported by Microsoft before the next presidential election. 

Others brought up hand-counting ballots as opposed to using electronic equipment and multiple mailings of ballots to the same household.

Later in the meeting after all the public comment was finished, State Election Director David Maeda attempted to address some of the concerns raised by members of the public.

He spoke about the certification process for voting systems and how every system must first be certified by the federal testing lab.

“It’s a very thorough examination of the quality of the system, all the way down to the source code level,” he said. “So they’re looking at everything to make sure that the voting systems work they way they’re supposed to work.”

The equipment is then tested by the state to make sure it meets state standards, including  running hundreds of ballots through the tabulators to make sure all the equipment is working correctly. Then the state notifies the counties to let them know the equipment is ready.

Maeda also spoke about the process of checking to make sure the number of signature envelopes matches the number of ballots that were counted, and about the procedure for hand recounts after an election.    

He also addressed the suggestion that the county should eliminate electronic voting machines and go to hand-counting ballots for elections. He said the smallest precinct in Sherburne County is in Haven Twp. with 93 registered voters.

“You’d think it shouldn’t be that difficult to count 93 ballots. But it’s not a matter of counting 93 ballots,” he said. “Every ballot in your county in November will have at least 38 races on it - federal, state, county and judicial races.”

That number could surpass 40 races, he said, if there are school board, township and city races included. And each race has to be counted individually.

The largest precinct is in Becker Twp., with about 3,700 registered voters. 

“They would end up counting over 142,000 ballots. This all has to be done and all material have to come back to the county within 24 hours,” he said. “That would not be a remote possibility.”

Maeda said there is always human error to contend with, and it would be even worse by having election judges count through the night after spending most of the day at the precinct.

“You don’t want election judges who have been there from six in the morning until 10 at night now trying to accurately hand count ballots,” he said, “and if there are errors in the count, you’re not going to know that.”

In response to a question by Commissioner Raeanne Danielowski, Maeda said the claims that people received multiple ballots in the mail are incorrect. He said they were actually applications for absentee ballots mailed by non-profit organizations encouraging people to vote absentee. He said even then, the county would only issue one ballot per person when the application was brought in.

As for the claim by Weible that the county’s software update was actually a new system, Maeda disagreed.

“I read the test lab report exactly the opposite of Mr. Weible,” he said.

Maeda said when Dominion certified its system, originally it was the 5.0 version that was being used. He said in the lab report it states that the 5.5 upgrade is a modification of the existing voting system. So not every change to the existing system would cause it to be considered a new system.

Maeda said Statute 206.56 gives the definition of a voting system.

“It’s a laundry list of everything down to a pen to the envelopes...” he said. “If you want  Diane (Arnold) to do these public demonstrations every time she buys a new pen, I think that’s beyond the scope of the statute.”

In response to a question by Sherburne County Administrator Bruce Messelt, Maeda said if a group disagreed with the state’s interpretation, they could challenge it in court. 

“Has anybody challenged it in the courts yet?” asked Messelt.

“No,” said Maeda. “There has not been a challenge in court.”

“So there is a legal option,” said Commissioner Felix Schmiesing. “And obviously in this room there is disagreement, and that’s probably where this is going to have to play out,  in my mind.”

Some members of the crowd that remained, including Weible, wanted a chance to ask Maeda questions, but they were not given the opportunity.   

 “This is not scheduled as a public hearing. It’s a presentation to the board,” said Messelt. “Thank you.”

The board then took a 10-minute recess before continuing the meeting.