CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — It’s almost Election Day, and voters across the country are relying on voting machines to accurately count their ballots.
Hamilton County,Tennessee has used optical scan based machines – or paper ballot machines – since 1998.
Elections Programmer Nathan Foster says even though the machines were upgraded 16 years later, they’re still used today, because the voters like them.
“We like having the paper, primarily because if there was ever a call into question about the integrity of this office, you can always go back to the paper as a completely independent trail of what the voter’s intent was,” Foster said.
Other counties primarily use DRE machines for voting, which are computers that directly record the votes on there.
But Foster says thanks to technology, their paper ballot machines have improved over the years, even though people are voting the same way.
“They’ve vastly improved security over the years,” he said. “All of the votes on every memory card are encrypted, so that way even if someone were to steal a memory card from a polling site, which has never happened here, but if they were to do that, they wouldn’t be able to simply plug that into anything and be able to access those votes. They have to have a special key, an encryption key, that only we have here on a computer, that’s not connected to the Internet. So it’s never had access to the Internet.”
Another way they prevent voter fraud? The machines have to read “zero votes” at the beginning of the day, before people come in to vote.
“Essentially the zero tape shows every candidate, and shows how many votes have been cast for that candidate at the open of polls, which will be zero. They verify that, and then they sign off on the tape,” Foster said.
The machines can even detect if a voter makes a mistake marking their ballot.
“The machines are set up to where they detect something called overvotes,” he said. “An overvote is, as you say, if a race, for example, for governor says vote for one, and a voter goes in and marks more than one oval in that race, it will stop from casting the ballot, and give the voter a choice to hey, you need to go in and essentially remark your ballot.”
Foster says the machines also take a digital scan of the paper ballots, which are anonymous, so there’s always an extra copy in case something happens to them.
Foster says to come out and vote on Tuesday, November 6 if you didn’t vote early.
The polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time.