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'It's important that it's done right': Officials, residents discuss voting security in OC

Multiple vested election officials patrol and control the crowds at the Herbert C. Young Community Center voting site on November 3rd, 2022.

In Orange County, election officials are responsible for ensuring efficient, fair, convenient and accurate elections. 

Some rhetoric surrounding the security of elections has since sparked an increased number of concerned citizens, especially regarding the fairness and accuracy of the vote.

Conversations about election security have been at the forefront of national political conversation following the 2020 presidential election, when former President Donald Trump, among other Republican leaders, called into question the accuracy of its results. 

One of the most prevalent election concerns is the possibility of voter fraud. 

Jamie Cox, chairperson of the Orange County Board of Elections, said he has served on the board in various capacities since 2011. 

 “Throughout that entire time, I have not observed or been aware of a single instance of voter fraud," he said. 

Research compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy organization, provided data and case studies showing that voter fraud is vanishingly rare. 

In most cases, ballots that could be seen as fraudulent can be explained by clerical or typographical errors, according to the Brennan Center's report. Instances of legitimate voter fraud only constituted statewide fraud rates of well below 0.01 percent per the report.

The report also includes a case study showing that voter fraud issues like people knowingly casting invalid votes or ineligible ballots could not have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.

Cox said the process by which voters cast ballots is low-tech. Votes are marked on paper ballots which are then put through a tabulator — an optical scanner not connected to the internet.

 “I will tell you that when I joined the board back in 2011, I had my own sort of healthy skepticism about whether the technology flicked votes and all that kind of thing,” Cox said. “Being involved in the board for even a short while — all of those concerns were put to rest simply because we have a paper trail.”

Cox added that all election results are monitored in an open meeting.

“(A paper trail) is really important because our county boards of elections keep every piece of paper, and that to me is one of the best ways to maintain some integrity,” Kathy Arab, a Republican election judge at St. John precinct in Carrboro, said.

Arab said a paper trail allows an opportunity for a real investigation if such an analysis is warranted.

Instances of minor election errors can occur, but paper trails and safeguards in place make it difficult for any substantial election sabotage to occur in Orange County. 

Susan Pearce, a former head judge and Chapel Hill resident, said she feels a growing erosion of the public's trust surrounding elections.

“There are certainly forces out there that are hell-bent on calling into question the integrity of right acting, right thinking," Pearce said. "I don't mean 'right' in the political sense, but people who are honestly trying to make things work properly."

The Electronic Registration Information Center is a non-profit membership organization with the objective of increasing voter registration and improving the accuracy of voter rolls. 

Their software was designed to cross-check data between member states and voter rolls to ensure that the same people are not registered in multiple states. 

Arab said the Republican Party in particular has rejected ERIC due to doubts about the software’s ability to clean its voter rolls.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently published a page entitled "Election Security Rumor vs. Reality" on its website that disproves common misconceptions the public may have developed about elections since 2020. 

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One of the assertions the CISA makes is that voter list registration protects against those who try to illegally vote on behalf of the deceased. The page noted that there is an extensive testing process through federal, state and local election authorities. 

“I take all this very personally, and I assume most people are like me, but we want to do the best, safest, most helpful job we can,” Pearce said. “This is important. It's important that it's done right. And that's what we all aim to achieve.”

Cox said that if a fraudulent ballot were to be cast, the occurrence is so rare that it wouldn’t have a chance of influencing the outcome of an election. 

“(The Orange County Board of Elections does) a superb job of training and addressing all workers' questions, addressing Election Day issues,” Pearce said. “Absolutely, I have confidence in the process.”


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