Although he can’t disclose much of the information, Franklin County’s Chief Election Officer Tim Baker is very pleased with the outcome of an election security test conducted by the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
Baker explained the test was originated through the federal office of Homeland Security and all 114 counties in Missouri had it done.
The auditors did a walk-through of the county’s election process from start to finish.
“I really can’t go into the specifics,” Baker said. “Let’s just say Franklin County is very secure.”
Baker added the audit did identify some red flags, but there were no surprises.
“Everything we had is fixable,” Baker said. “In fact, they would be very little things in most people’s minds. It certainly doesn’t mean we are perfect. There are definitely some areas we can improve.”
After his first full year in office, Baker and his election staff are quickly approaching the first major election of his tenure with the presidential preference primary on March 10.
In his short time, he has already overseen two unique elections, including the first-ever mail-in election in county history.
The other was a special election requested by a sewer district that despite passing with the popular vote, the measure ultimately failed because it did not meet the margin of votes needed to pass.
“As a new clerk, I welcomed the audit process and I was excited about this,” Baker said. “This affirmed we are doing a good job. My predecessor brought our elections to this level and now it’s my responsibility to take it to the next level.”
The audit was conducted by a team of six people over two days in December by an outside contractor hired by the state.
Due to its security sensitivity, the results of the election tests in Franklin and other counties statewide are not subject to Sunshine requests.
Baker could not and would not reveal any of the specifics of the test, but did give some broad strokes on what was looked at.
With computer hacking being a main concern after issues with the 2016 election nationwide, some of the testing done on the county was cybersecurity.
Baker explained the only time county voting information is even hooked up to the internet is when the voter rolls are downloaded onto the iPads used at the polling places on election day.
Even this is done on the county’s protected network. From then on the iPads are linked to one another but are not accessible by any outside internet service.
Baker did reveal there have been no cyberattacks on any county election infrastructure.
Once ballots are completed at a polling place, none of the boxes in which they are placed are opened until they are back at the county government building.
They are then unsealed and opened in the presence of a bipartisan team of staff and election judges.
If a seal looks to be tampered with, all of those ballots will be hand counted.
A true nightmare for election staff would be a scenario in which all of the ballots cast countywide would have to be hand counted.
Technology was to blame for the disastrous Iowa Democratic caucuses last week, where final vote totals weren’t announced until more than five days later.
Electronic reporting by phone applications failed on election night, which was further complicated by clogged phone lines to report totals. Baker vowed as long as he is in office the county would continue to use paper, color-in, ballots in its elections.
“Sometimes the old way is the best way,” Baker said. “Technology is wonderful, but once you open Pandora’s box, you can’t put things back in there. I want the citizens of Franklin County to know we are secure and their vote does count.”