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Vermont Secretary Of State Discusses Election Security and Accessibility

One week before voters go to the polls, Vermont’s Secretary of State discussed the state’s election system and security, including a new system designed to increase accessibility.
There are a number of changes in Vermont’s voting system this year that officials hope improve ballot security and voter accessibility. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos calls voting the core of democracy. One big change is that the state no longer has a deadline to register.  “This is the first general election with Election Day registration. You can actually register on line, at your town clerk’s office or at the polls on Election Day.”

Condos also highlighted a new accessible voting system for those with disabilities.   Condos says the state-of-the-art system makes voting as easy and accessible as possible.  “A voter makes their selections on a tablet. Once the voter confirms their selections a printer marks the same ballot used by all voters with that voter’s selections and the ballot is then fed through the tabulator or placed in a ballot box for hand counting like every other vote that’s cast. There’s no difference. This universal design is incredibly important. Not only did we feel that this system needs to be accessible and usable by all voters it’s equally important that the ballots produced by the AVS system are indistinguishable from other voters’ marked ballots not just for privacy but for the security and integrity of our election system.”

The design and development of the technology included feedback from local clerks and the disability rights community.  Disability Rights Vermont Supervising Attorney A.J. Ruben says casting a ballot is easier but a recent survey shows there are still some improvements needed.  “The new system is universally accessible and it doesn’t discriminate against people with disabilities or separate them out. But for folks who want to vote in person at the polling places being able to get into the building to use the new machine is as important as having an accessible machine to use when you get there. And we’ve issued a survey that reviews the 155 or 158 polling places throughout Vermont and most polling places are mostly accessible and your town clerks will make every effort to make sure that you don’t face barriers.”

Barre City Clerk Carol Dawes participated with a group of clerks on early versions of the system, testing its functionality.  “We’re the ones who are there interacting with the voters. We offered suggestions on bits and pieces that could be changed. The nice thing about this system is that it really is available to absolutely everybody.”

Secretary Condos notes that regardless of how ballots are cast, procedures are in place to assure overall system security.  He says his office was the first agency in state government to develop a cybersecurity plan. It conducts weekly cyber scans and daily backups of data systems, has multiple firewalls and numerous other precautions.  “We’re confident that Vermonters’ votes will count. We are working diligently to prevent fraud and hacking. We have a decentralized system as is most of the country.  The 135 towns who do use tabulators those tabulators are not connected to the internet by either hardwire or wifi. There’s no remote access software in them either. We have what I consider to be best practice and that’s a voter marked paper ballot.”

The new Accessible Voting System cost $1.3 million and was paid for with Help America Vote Act funds. Machines have been distributed to all polling districts in the state.

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