Before the storm — election day preparations

Thad and I traveled to Travis County, Texas, on Thursday, where (once we worked out way through the flow of folks leaving Houston in advance of Hurricane Rita) we spent considerable time with Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir and her election administration staff, and elections officials from the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Travis County is preparing for their November elections, and the primary things we did on Thursday were to observe their “logic and accuracy” testing of their voting systems, see how they handle by-mail ballots, and have an extensive discussion about the security procedures they have in place for their electoral process.

We’ll likely have much more to say about what Travis County is doing, as there are many interesting things we learned on Thursday.

Now, there are a couple of observations about the “logic and accuracy” testing we saw and studied.

First, Travis County has provided some details of their “logic and accuracy” (L+A) testing procedures, as well as the results from their May 2004 testing in electronic format; useful stuff for those interested in getting a quick introduction to what their L+A procedures include. If they update their page to include the L+A results from the test we observed on Thursday, we will update these links.

Here is a photograph of the basic setup of the L+A test, showing the Hart InterCivic ESlate voting machines and their associated judge stations; click here for the photo. And next, here is a photo of the temporary county employees who “cast” the ballots in this L+A test; click here. Last, here is a picture of the tallying process of the L+A testing; click here.

The voting machines were set up with the upcoming ballot for the fall elections, and the testers were voting set combinations to study the operation of the voting systems themselves as well as the ballot logic. The tabulation system was then used to count the ballots cast (in known patterns), thus testing that part of the voting system as well. All we observed yesterday directly was the L+A test, and it was impressive to see the commitment by Travis County to get it done right. The round of the test that we observed ended up producing some minor inconsistencies, which arose because the test voters did not cast some of the ballots as provisionals according to the script. That led them to replicate the test, to get it right.

Second, the L+A testing that we observed yesterday is part of a larger model of security in Travis County that we’ll talk more about later. But one piece of that security model that we also saw on Thursday was strong physical security. The Travis County election office has a strong security model, involving keypad access to the various parts of the facility where election administration occurs, security cameras in key parts of the facility, and compartmentalization of the election administration process.

Third, part of physical security involves something we have been talking about recently, which is disaster recovery and disaster preparation. Not surprisingly, the Travis County folks on Thursday were undergoing planning for Hurricane Rita, and a white board in a conference room that we used for a meeting was covered with hurricane-related disaster scenarios and mitigation strategies. One of those strategies we got a photo of; note here that they have all of their voting systems in their storage facility moved to a part of the room that they think will help minimize potential wind, rain, or water damage (apparently typically the voting systems are stored with aisles separating them); click here.

In general, site visits like this are very helpful for those who study election administration and voting technology, as you get to see first hand the complexity of the administrative process and the security procedures in place to help safeguard the integrity of the elections process. No doubt, there are always things that can be done to improve the administrative process, and it is helpful when election officials like those in Travis County welcome our observation, study, and questions.