LETTER: GOP citizen’s investigation of local voting system finds all is well

Thursday, November 3, 2022


Some question the integrity of the voting system here in Stillwater County. As an electronics engineer specializing in radio frequency data communications and with experience in the protection of crucial classified data, I decided to investigate the vote tabulating system in Stillwater County.

I was given a tour, demonstration and tutorial on the county voting system by Heidi Stadel, the Stillwater County Election Administrator.

Stillwater County uses ES&S model 100 vote tabulators at voting sites. A PCMCIA memory and processing circuit card in each tabulator records votes from ballot cards placed into the machine by the voter. When polls close on Election Day, the PCMCIA card from each tabulator is removed, which requires breaking a tamper witnessing seal.

The PCMCIA cards are then plugged into a connector on a dedicated computer isolated from the Internet in the election administrator’s office to combine data from all precincts. Modems have been removed from all tabulators used in Stillwater County, rendering intrusion by a cell phone or any other wireless device impossible.  Gaining access to this system to manipulate votes would require removing and replacing the PCMCIA card.  Controlled access procedures exercised in Stillwater County and tamper-evident seals provided by the Montana Secretary of State and placed over the PCMCIA card after insertion preclude that possibility.

Tabulators are tested prior to and following Election Day using sample ballots. Stillwater County does not rely on sample ballots provided by ES&S, instead generating its own sample ballots.

Counted votes are also audited following the election by hand-counting votes, typically from one precinct for each of three categories:  one federal race, one Montana race, and one ballot initiative. This ensures that the tabulator has accurately counted votes throughout the entire election process.

All ballots, whether mailed or handed out in the polling place, include serial numbers assigned to the person voting or to whom the ballot was mailed. At the polling place, the voter loads the voted ballot into the tabulator, ensuring that his/her ballot is counted once and only once. The signatures on mailed-in ballots are checked against signatures on file, and it is verified that the ballot serial number (indicated on the outer ballot envelope) matches the one sent to that voter.

Once the county vote tally is complete, it is loaded onto a thumb drive and walked across the room to an internet-connected computer for transmission to the Secretary of State (SoS).  The tally reported by the SoS is then monitored to ensure that it is the same as reported by the County.

ES&S appears to be a reputable, U.S.-based company. In 2007 the Ohio Secretary of State commissioned a study wherein the MicroSolved, Inc. penetration testing team was given access to a model 100 tabulator and the rest of the vote-counting apparatus. Their report describes vulnerabilities, categorizes them by severity, and suggests mitigation strategies.  All of the vulnerabilities noted in the report have been effectively mitigated by procedures used in Stillwater County.

Brent Nave