LaRose Tour Highlights Elections Security, Transparency

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With the Ohio primary set for March 17, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the staff of the Mahoning County Board of Elections led an in-depth, educational tour of the board’s office Tuesday morning to offer some transparency into the elections process.

“Once people see what happens at the Mahoning County Board of Elections, they may be more confident in voting,” LaRose said. “There are a lot of steps that are taken to protect the integrity of our elections. The people are the most important part of that.”

LaRose says he believes in transparency and that there are no secrets in elections.

“It’s important to emphasize that this work is done by our fellow Ohioans,” LaRose said. “I’m a military veteran and I think of the 35,000 Ohioans that are out working the polls on Election Day. That’s like a full division of the U.S. military being mobilized for Election Day, but in this case, it’s our volunteers.”

The tour began at the the board headquarters, an early-voting site where some voters were casting their ballots. Joyce Kale-Pesta, director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, is finding more Democrats are voting than Republicans, with 776 early Democratic voters and 281 Republicans so far.

LaRose joined Kale-Pesta and Thomas McCabe, deputy director, in leading reporters on the tour. Some of the areas featured included training stations, the cyber security room, petition filing, registration and the warehouse where voting machines are stored, as well as where the testing for logic and accuracy takes place.

While the Mahoning County Board of Elections’ DS200 voting machines were in good shape, new DS200s were purchased, officials said.

“New is better than old,” Kale-Pesta said. “As soon as we get the ballots loaded and done, we shrink wrap everything so nothing can be touched at the location.”

Warehouse employees tag voting equipment based on location and record the number on the tag before the machines are shrink-wrapped, Kale-Pesta said. Once they’re delivered, personnel opening the machines have to record the tag numbers so everything lines up.

“We keep a complete record of everything we do,” Kale-Pesta said. “We also have cameras in the warehouse watching what they’re doing down here in the process. So it’s very secure down here.”

Kale-Pesta discusses the process of handling votes with LaRose and McCabe.

Voting machines are tested to make sure they are working operating correctly and the full battery of tests are completed before each election, LaRose said. In addition, before machines are purchased, they’re certified by the Federal Elections Assistance Commission and by the Ohio Board of Voting Machine Examiners, he said.

The testing process of the voting machines is open to public inspection. So if people want to observe the way the machines are being tested, they can do so, LaRose said.

Once the machines are tested and certified, tamper evident seals are put on the machines, LaRose said. The seals are not opened until it’s time to begin voting, he said. He emphasized that voting machines are never connected to the internet, so the only way someone could hack them is if they were to physically break them open.

“By the time you did that, we would catch you,” LaRose said. “We would have seals that were broken and you would be on video having done it. It’s important for people to understand that because that rumor goes around every year — about how they could hack the voting machines.”

Two memory cards record the electronic voting results in the machines as well as the paper ballot as a backup, LaRose said. The redundancies are to make sure results can be double-checked for accuracy, he said.

In addition to pointing out the security safeguards in place during the elections process, LaRose credited the poll workers and employees at the Mahoning County Board of Elections who safeguard the elections procedures. They care about elections and about making sure that every voice is counted, he said.

“It’s these dedicated patriotic Ohioans here and in 87 other boards of elections who really make it happen,” LaRose said. “It’s a bipartisan team. Republicans and Democrats come to work each morning, they unlock the door, they turn on the lights and they do this complex job of running elections.”

Often times, cities like Cleveland and Columbus come first, while cities like Youngstown are left on the sidelines, Kale-Pesta said.

“We’ve never had a tour like this with any other secretary of state, so this is our first rodeo,” she said. “I think it’s very important to the community because having [LaRose] come into Mahoning County means that he cares about Mahoning County.”

Pictured above: Thomas McCabe, deputy director, Mahoning County Board of Elections, joins Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose; Mark Munroe, chairman, Mahoning County Board of Elections; Joyce Kale-Pesta, director, Mahoning County Board of Elections and Mahoning County Commissioner Dave Ditzler on a tour of the board of elections.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.