This is part II of a two-part in-depth look into our local election process by investigative reporter Gary Redfern.
EL CENTRO – The Imperial County Elections Department is already deep into preparations for this year’s Nov. 7 voting day, explained Registrar of Voters Debra Porter. Porter said her office takes exhaustive steps to ensure voter rolls are up to date, even going so far as to read locally published obituaries and double checking to ensure the deceased are removed.
The voting process and its security starts with registration, Porter explained. A person registering to vote must state their name, residence address (to determine voting precinct), mailing address (can be different than residence such as for a student, military member or person working out of state), date and place (state or nation) of birth and driver’s license number. The person also must verify they are a citizen of the United States, a requirement to register and vote.
Those with no driver’s license must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number. A registrant must sign the form verifying under penalty of perjury the information on it is correct.
But there are no requirements in California to show identification at the time or registration or when voting, Porter said.
Explaining some of the safeguards to prevent fraud, such as a person registering multiple times, Porter said in such a case the state system would show a driver’s license number being used more than once or an invalid number. Addresses are a safeguard, even for those who do not have a driver’s license.
“If that new voter registration is made in Imperial County and (a previous registration) shows a Los Angeles address, the registration then gets kicked out of L.A.’s voter system. Auto removal of old address is a major safeguard,” Porter said.
More cleanup of the voter rolls comes with deceased persons.
“The state sends us reports on the people who died in our county and others (compiled from death certificates),” Porter said. “There are updates every single day, so we would even learn of local residents who died in another county and were still registered to vote in Imperial County.”
However, one of the major concerns raised by Republicans is not enough is done to prevent noncitizens from voting. Asked if noncitizen who fraudulently registered could vote without a safeguard to prevent it, Porter said, “Yes.”
Republicans have also complained voters are not required to show identification at the polls before voting. Porter confirmed that is the case in California.
“We (the state Republican Party) haven’t taken a position on a specific form if voter ID. Some of us like the idea of a photo ID,” Bell said.
But noting Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate and that Gov. Jerry Brown is also a Democrat, Bell conceded, “While we think it’s a good idea, we do not think it will pass the legislature.”
Porter noted there is a difference between an individual registering and/or voting fraudulently and the type of mass fraud that would be required to have an effect on the outcome of an election, as Trump alleged. She explained county voting precincts are a strong barrier to fraud, and that her office keeps a close eye on the number of voters in each precinct over multiple elections. Any significant change would be investigated.
Of voter fraud, Porter said, “I don’t think so on a large scale in this county with all the safeguards in place. I would hope we would be able to catch that.”
Precincts are monitored closely in part because there must be at least 250 for one to qualify for in-person voting. Smaller precincts are moved to mail ballots, Porter explained.
“We look at precincts. That’s the first thing we look at in our system. We’re watching those numbers. Do we have (enough in a precinct for) a poll precinct or a mail precinct? Prior to the election we run a report with the number of registered voters per precinct,” she said.
There are other data-driven indicators that assist in security, Porter said.
“Excessive numbers at the same address. Occasionally we do talk to the post office about that,” Porter said and added, “We do look at registration cards (and for cases where there are) the same ink and the same handwriting (for multiple cards). The signatures have different names but the same handwriting.”
As far as hacking, Porter maintained confidence in the security measures in place and said manipulating the vote is unlikely.
“If someone wants to hack into your system, if they work hard enough they can probably get in. But there are 58 counties and they would need to get into each one. Even they if hacked the state level that does not mean access to the counties,” she said.
In an e-mail response to an interview request the California Secretary of State’s office outlined a number of security measures in place.
“California has one of the most strenuous voting system testing and certification programs in the country. New voting systems applying for certification in California go through months of testing, including functional testing, source code review, red team security testing that involves experts trying to ‘break into’ the voting system, and accessibility and volume testing as well,” the response stated.
“In order to make California elections as secure and accurate as possible, California counties are required to perform logic and accuracy testing on their voting systems before each election and follow specific procedures for programming, deployment, and use of voting equipment,” the Secretary of State response continued.
“In addition, California elections officials are required to conduct a manual tally of 1% of the precincts as part of the official canvass of election results as a safeguard to ensure votes were accurately read and tallied,” the response stated.
While the Trump Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity
has made national news, its activity appears limited. It is not listed among on the Trump Administration’s top issues at whitehouse.gov.
Information about the commission does appear in a blog section of the site at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2017/07/13/presidential-advisory-commission-election-integrity
When the commission asked states for their voter information, dozens of state secretaries of state, including California’s Padilla, refused.
The Secretary of State’s e-mail response to the Desert Review included a recount of Padilla’s scathing response: “California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. (commission co-chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris) Kobach. The President’s Commission is a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting systems and documented Russian interference in our elections.”
Porter said she does not see the value of sending county election information to a federal commission, stating that much of the voter information is public and what is not should not be shared.
“As a county we can’t give out that information. Why would the federal government want it?” Porter asked. “What do the last four digits of someone’s Social Security number or driver’s license number have anything to do with whether you fraudulently voted?
“As far as a fraud investigation, I don’t see where it would benefit. It could be politicized. There is no benefit to preventing fraud. What would it be used for?”
But California Republican Bell countered by stating, “The party has not taken a position (on the Trump commission) but is generally supportive of efforts to look into the integrity of the election process.”
Bell added exposure to hacking is a main concern. Recalling a recent American Bar Association Standing Committee on Elections panel discussion he attended, Bell said U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials who spoke “didn’t disclose many details but (stated) there were some efforts to poke an electronic nose into what was available on government election sites and voter records” during the 2016 election.
It has been widely reported that elections officials in several counties across the nation did report having their systems breached by hackers in 2016. Porter said she is aware of the threat and it is something election officials discuss and seek to prevent.
“What we should be saying on security is the state abides by the industry standard above and beyond and the counties have their own systems,” Porter said of the advice given at a gathering of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials she attended last summer.
Amid the national controversies and the international threats, Porter said the first defenses are local and those efforts are continuous regardless of political climate.
“I’m confident in our system. Everything’s public. I will explain what we are doing. Everything we do, we do with two people” to prevent any internal errors or fraud, she said.