Nearly 1,500 ballots already accepted at elections office

By 
Elias Baer
Thursday, October 15, 2020
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Park County Election Administrator Maritza Reddington stands Thursday morning with drawerfulls of ballots submitted by Park County voters. Enterprise photo by Elias Barrett

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Park County Elections Administrator Maritza Reddington scans the bar code on the outside of a sealed ballot Thursday morning. Enterprise photo by Elias Barrett

Twenty days until the general election, Park County voters are rushing to cast their ballots.

So far, Park County has accepted 1,475 ballots, said Elections Administrator Maritza Reddington.

As of Thursday, Reddington said there are 12,178 active voters in Park County, compared with just 9,987 during the last presidential election in 2016.

Using mail-in ballots as the primary method for voting in an election is unprecedented, but to a degree, mailing ballots has been going on for many years, according to Reddington.

“Absentee and mail-in voting are basically the exact same thing,” Reddington said. “Either way, voters are absent from the polling place. Both procedures are handled the exact same way.”

Reddington explained the detailed, multifaceted approach taken by election officials to mitigate voter fraud, a federal offense.

“We follow (Montana) law, Administrative Rules and directives that dictate the way we conduct elections, these contain security measures and policy,” Reddington wrote in a Thursday email. “There are several steps we take to ensure the integrity of the election, chain of custody seal logs where ever ballots are present, tracking ballots statuses, and verification steps when ballots are returned.”

Reddington said that mail ballot elections have been conducted for decades and over time advancing technologies have safeguarded the measures in place, ensuring voting is safe and secure.

Reddington explained that larger counties have multiple ballot processing sites and more complicated procedures, but in Park County, all of the ballot tabulating happens in the Clerk and Recorder’s office.

In Park County, officials use a DS45 digital scanner and tabulator to count ballots and votes. It’s a complicated system with several safeguards in place to prevent voter fraud.

The software used at the Park County Election Administration requires two-factor authentication, encryption and passwords that change from moment to moment.

Each election administration officer receives a specific encrypted USB containing ballots specific to certain county elections.

Officials, like Reddington, wear an electronic fob on a lanyard. The fob displays a six-digit number, which is acting as their password to the system. According to Reddington, the six-digit number changes every 60 seconds.

What happens if someone tries to vote by mail, and again in person?

Thirty days before the election, registered voters are invited to vote in person, meaning as of Oct. 2, ballots were ready for eager voters, and still are.

“The problem has been that there’s an overlap between receiving ballots in the mail and voting in person, since people can come in and vote 30 days before, but ballots weren’t mailed out until 25 days before,” Reddington explained.

This means that a voter who submitted a ballot on Oct. 2 would have also received a second ballot in the mail five days later.

But none of that means that voters can easily cast two ballots — not at all, according to Reddington.

Each voter is issued a unique ballot ID, and each ballot is processed by the source in which it is received, either by mail or in-person. Each voter has an assigned barcode, and if two ballots have been cast containing the same barcode, a red flag will indicate a problem to voting officials.

Once a ballot has been completed, whether in person or mailed in, Reddington said it’s extremely important to sign the voter affirmation on the outside of the ballot, and also double check that the signature used is in fact the signature on record at the elections office.

A faulty signature is one of the more common ways to have a ballot disqualified.

“To verify a signature, we have a list of previously signed documents on each person to use for comparison, Reddington said, pulling up several signatures to compare with those on a ballot.

For example, she said, “We have their voter registration card, applications for absentee ballots or a signature update card, which is sent out every few years.”

Park County is referred to as a “central count county,” meaning all mail-in, absentee and in-person ballots are delivered and processed in the same place: the Park County Clerk and Recorder’s office, which doubles as the Election Administration Office in a smaller county.

In smaller states, the Clerk and Recorder, an elected position, wears two hats: one, the job’s namesake; two, election administrator.

In states like Montana, where this is the case, choosing a qualified and trustworthy candidate to serve as Clerk and Recorder is an important decision, Reddington said, even if the Secretary of State does conduct a biannual certification exam on all election administrators as a safeguard against anyone corrupt in their tallying.

For a comprehensive list of polling places near you in Park County, please visit www.parkcounty.org and follow the election link first, and then the current elections link for a list of dropoff sites.