June 12, 2018 was not a good day to be a Nevada election administrator.
Newly purchased voting machines experienced glitches across the state on primary election day — including a few problems deemed “significant” by election officials and that ultimately led to a do-over special election in the Republican primary for Clark County public administrator, a race initially decided by only four votes.
A recent Reno Gazette Journal story found that up to 300 instances of voting-machine problems were reported during the election — significantly more than the number of problems originally reported.
But Wayne Thorley, the deputy secretary of state for elections (effectively the state’s election czar), says he’s confident the problems won’t crop up again when voters begin heading to the polls in October for the start of early voting.
Thorley recently sat down for an interview on the IndyMatters podcast and discussed the snafus and fixes in the aftermath.
You can listen to the full podcast with Thorley here.
No matter the election, there is bound to be a question that crosses voters’ minds: Is my vote safe?
“The answer to that question is yes,” said Thorley. “The secretary of state’s office — both here in Nevada, our county local election officials and really election administrators all across the country — are doing everything they can to make sure that everybody’s vote is counted accurately and that the election is run open and fairly.”
The voting system, which consists of the voting machines, central tabulators and scanners that run absentee and mail ballots, is never connected to the Internet, Thorley said. The voter registration system, however, connects to the Internet occasionally.
A so-called “air gap” exists between the two systems to prevent the voting system from ever connecting to the Internet, he said.
The secretary of state’s office has focused on protections for the voter registration system given the Internet risks. For instance, it’s installing “intrusion detection systems,” which monitor web traffic coming into the network, at all county election offices, Thorley said. The detection systems will identify malicious traffic and then notify the system.
“Voter registration data has a treasure trove of information for those that just want to be identity thieves,” he said. “So we are really working to secure those systems because those systems are connected to the Internet.”
Last month, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a story detailing voting machine problems during the June primary election that involved flawed and pre-marked ballots.
Thorley addressed the situation, chalking it up to mostly human error. “It was not the result of any sort of hacking or attempt to undermine the election by some malicious actors,” he said.
All Nevada counties purchased new voting machines ahead of the primary election, which led to a learning curve for both voters and poll workers in June, Thorley said. Plus, he said a “small number” of equipment issues surfaced during the primary as well.
One of the issues was a truncated ballot, in which not all candidates’ names appeared, he said. Another involved a person inserting a voter card and being issued a pre-marked ballot. These incidents were not widespread and were corrected when brought to the attention of poll workers, he said.
To prevent similar problems going forward, Thorley said his office has increased training for poll workers and discussed the problems with the voting machine manufacturer. Several firmware updates to the equipment have also been conducted.
“We are very confident that the issues have been addressed and that we won’t see these major issues for the general election,” he said. “There is always going to be minor issues that we can deal with and fix on-site, but of course we don’t want to see these significant issues where a candidate’s name is being left off the ballot.”
Election Day process
On Election Day itself, Thorley said his office will again partner with law enforcement, political parties and election administrators in setting up an “Election Integrity Task Force” — a sort of nerve center designed to combat day-of misinformation and to deal with any immediate issues with polling places or voting machines.
Thorley recommended voters obtain information from verified, official sources and to contact the task force if they see anything seemingly amiss on Election Day, though he said the office didn’t have the staffing to actively check social media postings for misinformation.
State and local officials are also partnering with the federal Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a nonprofit information sharing and analysis center that keeps a close eye on election security. Thorley credited the state’s partnership with U.S. Department of Homeland Security for their involvement with the nonprofit and other ways the state has beefed up its election security.
“We have been able to leverage the resources of our federal partners to really do some of this monitoring that we just don’t have the resources for at the state level,” he said.
In April 2017, Cegavske announced that her office had evidence that at least three non-citizens in Clark County had illegally cast a ballot in the 2016 election.
More than 17 months later, the investigation is still ongoing.
Thorley, who said he has no involvement in the criminal side of the inquiry, nevertheless said the office was investigating additional people in the case and would continue working on it for as long as it takes.
“There is always an urgency, but there is not an urgency in the sense that we are going to rush this investigation and cut corners just, so we can get it done by election day,” he said. “That is not what we are going to go where the facts lead us, and if it’s resolved by election day, great, if not, we want to make sure that we aren’t jeopardizing the investigation just, so we can be done within a certain timeframe.”
Still Thorley said Nevadans should be confident that the 2016 election results “are not tainted through widespread fraud.”