Will your vote count? Ohio working to increase election security

MIAMI VALLEY — As Ohio voters go to the polls this year the state says security is in place to make sure every vote counts.

“Your voice will be heard,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. “Your ballot will be accurately counted.”

With about a month until Ohio’s March 17  primary election, security experts are still concerned about election security and foreign election interference.

After more than 6,000 ballots weren’t counted in Miami County in 2018, News Center 7’s I-Team took a look at what has changed since 2018 and how people can be sure that their vote will count.

>> RELATED: I-Team: Are votes, voting equipment secure?

As a child, Inge Voisard immigrated from Germany to Ohio.

That perspective, as a proud naturalized citizen who now calls Troy home, means she’s always taken voting seriously.

“I don’t think I’ve ever missed an election,” she said.

But in November 2018, when Ohio governor race was hot, her early absent vote was one of the 6,288 in Miami County that was initially tabulated as zero.

Records obtained by the I-Team indicate after the Nov. 6, 2018, election the problem went undetected until Dec. 20, 2018.

That’s when the Ohio Secretary of of State’s Office alerted county leaders of a discrepancy.

It was not until Jan. 22, 2019, when the lost ballots were finally counted and included in the amended vote count.

Miami County’s elections director was fired.

But what is the county doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

>> RELATED: Miami County leaders meet to discuss the 6,200 votes that went uncounted this past election

“We had to re-write a policy manual,” said Laura Bruns, Miami County’s current board of elections director. “We had to re-write out procedures.”

Bruns came here after the 2018 incident. She said an employee missed a step in the process of loading early votes into the the counting system.

If the staff had been looking, she confirmed they would have found this — a zero in the initial vote count showing no early votes were counted.

“I laid out in front of them a year ago,” said LaRose. “Right now you have a trust deficit with the voters of your county.”

LaRose put Miami County on state oversight.

The errors also led the state to spend $114 million on new voting machines to increase security.

The new Miami County machines start with a paper ballot. You darken a circle by the candidate’s name and then put it into a scanner to be counted.

>> RELATED: State investigation begins into uncounted ballots in Miami County

The paper ballot can always be recounted again if needed.

The machines are not hooked up to the internet.

“So there's no possible way for the machine to be hacked,” said Bruns. “We keep it in a room that has double locks on the door.”

While the machines are under lock and key, there are still national election security concerns.

Adam Levin runs the internet security firm CyberScout.

He said foreign governments are still trying to hack election computer systems and are trying to undermine out faith in the election system.

“We're living in a dangerous world,” said Levin. “There are more vulnerabilities that we've ever thought about before. Disinformation has become mainstream.”

>> RELATED: Election board fires director after 6,200 ballots weren’t counted

The Department of Homeland Defense is not providing technical help to get all states and local boards of elections.

“There's no such thing as 100% secure,” said Matt Masterson, election security adviser for the Department of Homeland Security. “There's always areas for improvement. That's why this is an ongoing, evolving process.”

University of Dayton professor David Salisbury is the region’s top cyber security expert.

He said it appears Ohio’s election system is on the right track.

Still, like any organization, emails to election workers remain one of the biggest threats.

“What keeps me up at night is a person who is well-intentioned, a hard worker, at their job, busy as all get out, one of the messages come by and before they can think it through they click,” he said.

>> RELATED: 8 Ohio counties fail to meet election security deadline

LaRose said they have recently detected and defeated an Iranian malware attack.

“They bad guys lost and the good guys won,” he said.

For added protection, LaRose sent a 34-point preventative measure checklist to every Ohio election board.

Just recently Miami County was released from state supervision.

With extra cyber security provisions, like paper ballots and new voting machines, local boards of elections are promising your vote will be counted.

“We will be ready,” said Bruns. “I have a good staff. We have a good board. We're all going to work together to make it happen.”

However, there are a few legitimate cases where a vote you cast will not be counted.

The first case is if you vote for a write-in candidate who has not registered with the state in advanced.

>> RELATED: Report: DHS 2020 election security plan not finalized before voting started

And if you forget to sign your absentee ballot and send it in at the very last minute, it’s too late to correct it.

Also, if you are not registered to vote you cannot cast a ballot. So make sure to check your registration with the board of elections long before Election Day.

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