Secretary of State Discusses Ballot Security
Condos: Vermont's Votes Well-Secured
How secure are Vermont’s election systems? That was the topic for
discussion on Tuesday evening as the Orange County Democratic Committee
hosted Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, who provided a detailed
outline of how votes in the Green Mountain State are counted, recounted,
More recently, as the national discourse continues to churn about possible Russian meddling with American elections, Condos has been concentrating his attentions on how best to improve and secure Vermont’s election systems.
“The world of elections really got turned on its head in summer of 2016,” said Condos at the beginning of his talk to about a dozen attendees at the Randolph Town Hall, as he described how he was invited to participate in a conference call with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
At the time, Condos said, DHS was considering designating state election systems as “critical infrastructure.” This designation— which includes the healthcare, heavy manufacturing, and energy sectors—now allows election officials access to federal resources and assistance in ensuring the integrity of the ballot box.
That integrity, according to Condos, is well-guarded in Vermont— which ranks among the leaders in cybersecurity and proposed best practices for state elections, largely due to a few simple steps to ensure every vote is counted and accounted for afterward.
“We have paper ballots!” said Condos, proudly, of the older but less vulnerable system currently in use.
Condos also hangs his hat on regular election audits of five percent of Vermont’s towns, which are randomly selected a week before the audit takes place.
“We’ve been doing audits since 2006. We’ve never found a discrepancy between the machine count and the actual count that we do later,” said Condos, as he gently explained that most of the counting errors—some of which were discovered on contested recounts— stem from the hand counting process, which is vulnerable to clerical errors and transposition.
But, as computer experts will admit, any electronic system is capable of being maliciously hacked. With this unsettling fact in mind, Condos has arranged for all Vermont’s voter data to be backed up to redundant systems on a daily basis. This, combined with a streamlined voter registration process, ensures that Vermont’s voter records are as accurate and secure as possible.
“We do a backup every day,” he said during the Q&A session that followed his informal presentation. “If we get hacked [in] some strange way, we can go back 24 hours and reset our voter registration database, and then we have same-day voter registration, so no one will be denied."
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos speaks at the Randolph Municipal Building on Wednesday evening about cybersecurity and election integrity, both in Vermont and across the nation. (Herald / Dylan Kelley)
Defending the Voters
Aside from riffing about information security and electronic intrusions into the voter database, Condos was eager to comment on what he sees as the most immediate threat to free and fair elections: voter disenfranchisement.
“The real problem … is denying eligible Americans the right to vote. That’s the real issue and that’s happening as a lot of these red states are trying to put in place obstacles [to voter registration],” said Condos, as he pointed to restrictive voter ID laws enacted in recent years.
“Here in Vermont only 68 percent of our registered voters voted in the last presidential election,” he said. “We have a difficult enough time getting people to vote once, let alone twice.”
Making headlines, Condos—who is the President-Elect of the Association of Secretaries of State— joined with 43 other secretaries to deny a controversial federal request for all voter data from a federal voter fraud commission.
That commission, which requested included data on voters’ names, addresses, and Social Security numbers, has since dissolved after failing to find any evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Condos also took a moment to remind those in attendance that he hopes Governor Phil Scott will soon add his signature to House Bill 624, which protects the state voter checklist from copying or requests from the federal government.
“Voting is considered a constitutional right,” said Condos. “You’re not supposed to obstruct that."