• Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

Local election officials engage community to ensure confidence in outcome of our elections

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

On Tuesday, November 8, more than 3,000 Hamilton County Board of Elections employees, including part-time poll workers who man the 300 polling sites in the county, will spend the day and evening working to ensure your vote in the Mid-term National Election is properly processed.

Today, following election deniers who sprang up en mass on President Donald Trump’s side, there are more doubters of election results (deniers) than ever due to Trump’s stand that the 2020 Presidential Election was miscounted, although he lost to President Joe Biden by 7 million votes.

Because of similar concerns about election fraud this November, Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sherry Poland has been conducting guided tours of the county’s 74,000 square-foot election facilities at 4700 Smith Road in Norwood.

During one of Poland’s “Behind the Ballot” tours for local media representatives on National Voter Registration Day, she said, “We are doing this and taking other steps to ensure that very voter in Hamilton County has faith and confidence in the outcome of our election.”

In an effort to make voting in Hamilton County transparent, Board of Elections Director Sherry L. Poland meets the press during a “Behind the Ballot tour.

Echoing that was BOE Executive Director Alex Linser, who also led the tour, saying, “The election of 2020 was the most accurate one in our history, and we open our doors to any group that would like to observe the secure process that occurs here. We place emphasis on engaging the community through social media and other resources, and we have twice received national recognition for our communications with the public.”

Linser continued, listing other measures being taken to make the election here secure, such as having all ballots handled by a partisan team, not tallying any votes until all polls are closed, testing every machine prior to election day, making troubleshooters available in the field to handle any problems, and not using the Internet to relay any voter or BOE information that day.

“Because those voting machines are never connected to the Internet, we have to physically receive them and pull the drives out of them and plug them into our central computers,” Linser explained. However, election results are posted on the BOE Website  throughout the evening as returns from the precincts are counted.

It should be noted that Poland is a Republican and Linser is a Democrat. They form a bipartisan team at the top of the local election system. Election oversight also includes the 4 member Board of Elections (2 of each party), the Secretary of State who is the Chef Elections Officer, ad the five local election departments, which are Administration and IT, Voter Services, Absentee Voting/Communications and Compliance, Operations, and Poll Worker/Polling Locations and Supplies. Operations handles building the ballot, proofing the ballet, testing voting machines, processing absentee returns and counting votes.

Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sherry L. Poland shows the view through windows of the ballot counting room, which is the heart of the local elections, where public can watch the process on election night.

At election day closing time, voting machines are brought to the BOE headquarters in a truck by a bi-partisan team and plugged into equipment in a secure room there.

Loading and unloading the machines is a physical process, Linser said, and the ballots can only be handled by an election official.

Poland pointed out that anyone can come to the board on election night and watch the vote-counting process through widows surrounding the room.

The first results that are posted are the count of absentee ballots, so the returns show only those results.     

A record mid-term turnout is possible to come Nov. 8, Election Day. At the time of the tour, they had more than 37,896 absentee ballot requests. At that point four years ago, there were 17,126 requests.

“Who’s there?” an employee inside the vote counting room at the Board of Elections facilities might ask. Access to the secure room requires the codes of two elections officials from different parties.

The U.S. Postal Service gives election mail their highest priority, Poland said. Your absentee ballot can be tracked by clicking on Track My Ballot at the BOE Website. According to Ohio law, only one drop box is  permitted per county, and in Hamilton County it is at the board’s facilities in Norwood.

Election officials have 21 days to complete their official, certified ballot counts, and that includes additional absentee ballots that are received after election day and provisional ballots from voters who have moved since the last election.

“There are multiple steps taken to ensure accuracy,” Linser said. “And a hand count comparison to a machine count is required during an audit.”

Poland noted the trained 2,000 poll workers that work election day take an oath to uphold the Constitution of Ohio. Since about 70% of poll workers return each election, there is always a need for additional poll workers.

A Board of Elections employee checks out voting booth equipment that will be trucked to more than 300 voting sets for the Nov. 8 election.

“We are doing everything we can to gain public confidence in the process here,” she  added.

They explained how the 50 to 200 seasonal workers they hire are intentionally half-Democrat, half-Republican.

Linser said BOE lately receives an average of three calls a day from voters who are concerned about the process. Most involve a distrust of voting machines or a request for the documents used in the election. “In Ohio, we know the machines are accurate, because we test them and because we audit them,” he said.

He and Poland showed the media secure areas where no person can enter by himself or herself, such as the vote counting area.

The Board is also receiving more calls questioning the legitimacy of voting by mail, and some want to do away with voting machines altogether and go strictly to a hand count.

Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sherry L. Poland and Deputy Director Alexander F. Linser discuss election day procedures to the media at a recent Behind the Ballot tour of BOE headquarters in Norwood.

By a directive of Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, the machines are independently tested before the election and audited afterward. The audit involves hand-counting a certain percentage of votes.

Linser said he hopes the effort at transparency sinks in with those who may be susceptible to believing the misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms. They have a new two-person section devoted to that alone.

When asked if someone whose convinced the system is rigged to favor one party over another could be a poll worker, Poland said, absolutely.

“We would welcome someone to come in,” Poland said. “Go through a poll worker training class, learn about the process from a trusted source, from those that are actually doing the work, not what you see on social media.”

For additional election information, go to VoteHamiltonCountyOhio.gov.