‘YOU CAN PUT IN AN X AND AN X’: Election security concerns in Story County

A precinct worker in Story County contacted The Iowa Standard on Tuesday with concerns about certain aspects involving election security.

The Auditor’s Office delivers cages secured with a padlock to precincts on the Monday before election day. These cages house electronic tabulation machines (OVOs), official ballots and electronic poll books. Precinct chairmen pick up those keys the week prior to the election at the County Auditor’s office in Nevada, or at the in-person training. The staff at the Auditor’s office provides keys without identifying the person requesting them, neither does the Auditor’s office keep a log of who has possession of the keys. A Story County resident notified the Secretary of State’s office during the last election about the casual attitude taken by the Auditor’s office in regard to handling these keys, but it appears no changes were made for this election.

One individual, who had keys to the cages and OVO machines from a previous election (the Auditor’s Office did not seem to notice they were missing) brought them to a different precinct for Tuesday’s election. Those keys opened the padlock and OVO machines in a completely different precinct, leading to the conclusion that the keys for all precincts in Story County might be the same.

“That seems wrong to me,” said this individual.

The Iowa Standard also received audio of a training session held in Ames for Tuesday’s election which was required for all poll workers. Kevin Norris, the Deputy Auditor for Elections in Story County and a presenter at the training, taught the poll workers how to use the electronic poll books.

“The first thing it’s going to ask you is to enter your name and touch continue. So, whoever’s using the (poll) pad, you have to put something in each of these two fields before the continue button will allow you to go forward. You can spell out a first name, a last name…you can put in an x and an x… You might just want to put in an x and x so you don’t have to go through the hassles of logging out and logging back in again.”

Some Story County voters find this curious. Logging in allows for identification of the user, so that the person logged in can be identified if anomalies occur.

Later, Mr. Norris teaches, “Then [the poll book]’s going to ask you for a password…in…the security cage, there is an Opening folder. In that Opening folder you will find a confidential envelope and it’s sealed up and there’s a sheet of paper in there that’s going to have this super-secret [password stated but redacted here] Oops! on it (laughter).”

Not only is the “super-secret” password in the confidential envelope the same for every iPad in the county, it would not pass the “too weak” standard of any cyber security protocol.

Legislators at the state level have been working to improve security in our elections, but at least one county it seems has not taken election protocols seriously.

Author: Jacob Hall