Election night reporting – keeping up with the “Joneses”

On Wednesday, June 6th, a member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors criticized Election Services (ES) for reporting our June 5th election night results later than other counties.

In the Fall of 2017, I asked ProCircular to conduct an audit of ES.  One of the topics reviewed was using cellular modems to transmit election night results.

In light of the Russian attempts to hack the 2016 election and the fact that Iowa was a target of the hacking, I have been discouraged by ProCircular and the US Department of Homeland Security from attaching cellular modems to our precinct scanners.  Why?  Per the experts’ advice, using cellular modems creates a vulnerability for hackers to exploit.  Instead, we have employees hand deliver the memory sticks with the election results to ES on election night.

Further, cell service in parts of Linn County – depending on the carrier you use – is undependable.  And not every carrier offers cellular modems that are approved for use with our precinct scanners.

When I was elected County Auditor in 2007, ES relied upon land-line based telephone services and modems attached to precinct scanners to report election night results to our central computer.  In the November 2008 election, I recall a local TV reporter thrusting a microphone into my face and asking me why the results were delayed.  I told him that a couple of modems failed and our fallback plan was to have the results hand delivered from the precinct to ES on election night.  That is the last time I relied upon modems to report precinct election results.

And while technology has improved in the last ten years, if we cannot receive 100% of the results at about the same time on election night, e.g., from the Prairieburg, Walker, or Coggon precincts, then what have we accomplished?

If ES buys modems for the November 2018 general election, here’s what would happen:

  • We will have spent about $30,000 on cellular modems;
  • We will have created an additional vulnerability for our election night results to get hacked;
  • We will have added one more piece of technology for the precinct election officials to be trained on, to use, and to worry about; and
  • We will have created the impression that Linn County’s election night results will be reported to the public as fast or faster than surrounding counties who use modems.

And if our election night results are reported in 30 minutes or less, what value did we add to the election?  We reported our UNOFFICIAL election night results an hour quicker than before.  We satisfied a few people.  And we made 153,000 people who did not vote in the election pay 90% of the costs for $30,000 in modems.  That is not a good use of tax dollars.  – Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

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