Who are “they” when people talk about cyber security? “They” can hack into your webcam, or computer or email account. In the 2016, “they” were the Russian actors who, according to the U.S. intelligence community, meddled in the presidential election. While there is no evidence that the actual voter rolls or tabulation systems were compromised (although probably scanned for vulnerabilities), the meddling produced fears of what “they” might be able to do in future elections.
In Colorado, however, security-based reforms were well underway before the threat of Russian meddling was raised. On top of being one of the easiest states in which to register and cast a vote, Colorado was named as “the safest state to cast a vote” in a 2017 article in the Washington Post.
According to representatives from the City and County of Denver and the Secretary of State’s office, the reason for this security appears to be that the state has incorporated advice from independent experts and government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to form a system that is simultaneously high- and low-tech.
“For both practical and legal reasons, there is a paper record for every ballot cast in Colorado,” said Lynn Bartel of the Secretary of State’s office in an email. While electronic machines are available at many polling places across the state, each also produces a physical record to fall back on if issues arise. Having a physical record in addition to the voting machines is a requirement in Colorado that goes beyond federal regulations.
Further, a robust auditing procedure is in place. Alton Dillard of the Denver Elections Division explained the process as using a combination of computerized mechanisms (such as software that can detect if someone made an “x” instead of filling in the oval) and physical checks of random ballots.
Pictured above are the 10-sided dice that counties across Colorado use to ensure that a random selection of ballots is pulled for audit. Each roll of 20 dice produces a 20-digit number that corresponds with a set of ballots to be looked over by hand.
The closer the race, the more ballots looked at during this process, says Dillard, and, he adds, “All our processes take place bipartisanly.”
The Denver Election Division website states election results are then uploaded to the Secretary of State “through an isolated secure network that has no ties to any other network or the internet.” Every other element of the voting process takes place offline with physical paper printouts. In a voluntary DHS program, Colorado received high marks for its election network and system and the DHS found nothing significant to report.