Henderson County elections director answers if it is possible to hack local voting machines

·4 min read
Scenes from 2022 early, one-stop voting in Henderson County.
Scenes from 2022 early, one-stop voting in Henderson County.

Henderson County Elections Director Karen Hebb discussed with the board of commissioners Monday night whether or not it is possible to hack local voting machines.

Chair Bill Lapsley said the commissioners have been asked about whether or not hacking the machines is possible. At the beginning of the commissioners’ meeting, Henderson County resident Karl Gessler called the election machines untrustworthy and said recent elections have been rigged. He requested that the commissioners “not pay for election-rigging machines.”

“One of the questions that we get asked on occasion is does our elections board staff check to make sure no one is hacking into our election machines,” Lapsley said to Hebb. “That to me is a very serious insinuation, and I would like to hear from you that you are aware of that charge and that you do whatever is necessary to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“First off, there is no way to hack into our machines,” Hebb said. “There is no modem, there is no way that you can access the machine.”

“Once the machine reads the ballot, it stores the information on a thumb drive. We take that thumb drive out after the polls are closed and upload to a computer that has never been hooked to the internet. The information is then placed on another thumb drive that is taken to a separate computer and uploaded to the state and then that thumb drive is never used again,” she said.

“So, there is no way that anyone can get into our machines or get into our coding because it is never hooked to the internet, and there is no way it can be hacked,” according to the elections director.

“We keep all of our machines in a locked cage... we have a lock that is accessed with your thumb, so only employees are able to come into where our machines are kept; our programming room is always locked when we are not using it, so we try everything we can to make sure there is double security as far as the machines go and it cannot be accessed,” said Hebb.

Scenes from 2022 early, one-stop voting in Henderson County.
Scenes from 2022 early, one-stop voting in Henderson County.

Vice Chair Rebecca McCall asked Hebb if random audits, such as hand counts compared to machine counts, were routine. She also noted that Gessler left the meeting before Hebb had a chance to speak to commissioners.

“Before every election, we test every machine before it goes out of our office,” Hebb said. “We have a test deck that we pre-fill out. We know what that machine should read and when we feed those ballots into those machines we check those tapes, and if they are 100% accurate, they go out to our precincts.”

“When they come back, on the Friday after the election, the state board of elections randomly selects two precincts for us to audit, hand to eye, so this year it was the Etowah one-stop site. They had 1,733 ballots. We took those ballots and we hand-tallied them and we compared the results to the tapes, and they came out 100% correct. They chose Long John Mountain precinct, where there were 372 ballots. They were hand tallied and it came out exactly correct, as far as the tapes were concerned. The machines are audited before and after every election,” Hebb said.

Primary election numbers 

Hebb presented to the commissioners some breakdown of votes cast in the primary election.

Henderson County had 23,721 people vote in the most recent election, compared to 16,000 in primary in 2018. One-stop voting has become increasingly popular as well. Around 10,000 took advantage of option this year, and about half that amount did in 2018.

“So, it was a pretty high turnout, but we had four sites open so there were no lines anywhere, and we had no machine failures, thank goodness. We didn’t have any issues with anything this election, so everything went smoothly,” said Hebb.

Mail-in absentee ballots are the way many voters are going now, according to Hebb. In 2018, 123 mail-in ballots were returned, and that figure jumped to 626 this year.

Hebb also noted that unaffiliated voters now outnumber both Republican and Democrat registered voters in the county. Unaffiliated voters had a choice of filling out a Republican or Democrat ballot. More ballots were cast in Republicans races, which is common, according to Hebb.

This article originally appeared on Hendersonville Times-News: Henderson County elections director answers if it is possible to hack local voting machines