Safe & Sound

Elk County’s voting machines are locked in the Courthouse Annex and only accessible by authorized personnel. Additionally, cameras surveil the area to document who comes in and out.

RIDGWAY – Anticipation is heavy as Nov. 8 looms.

In one week, voters will choose their 45th president in what some experts have called one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent history.

In Elk County, election director Kim Frey’s pre-election weeks have been busy with paperwork, planning and phone calls.

Frey said Tuesday that in the past weeks she has received about 20 calls from voters worried that the electronic election machines are secure and accurate.

Many have also inquired if they can forego touching the screen to put pencil to paper to vote the old-fashioned way.

“Our official balloting is on the electronic voting machine,” said Frey, adding that if a person is properly registered they must vote with the machines.

Speaking to the concerns some voters have, Frey said the machines don’t connect to the internet and are certified on the state and federal level. She added that the machines have already gone through their pre-election logic and accuracy testing and passed with flying colors.

The machines are on lockdown 24-hours-per-day, seven-days-per-week.

Now that they are in the preparation phases for the upcoming elections, the machines are locked in the gymnasium of the courthouse annex where only authorized personnel can access them. Cameras document who comes in and out.

“We want to ensure voters we’ve taken all of the necessary steps and followed all of the protocol,” said Frey, who added this is the tenth election the machines have been used. “As far as hacking, it’s impossible. I feel very confident in saying that you can’t hack them.”

Commissioner Jan Kemmer added that this year the county even went beyond the mandated security requirements by changing the lock on the gymnasium door to make sure it was brand new.

Meanwhile, members of the Elk County Democratic party are prepping for other security concerns, warning voters about what to do if they are physically or verbally harassed at the polls.

The Elk County Democratic Party has always had a lawyer on call in case election day harassment occurs. However this year it is being pushed more strongly from the state party structure to have procedures in place.

“While I hope I don’t see it, I wouldn’t be surprised if I see some voter intimidation at the polls,” Elk County Democratic Party’s chairman Rich Schweikart said. “There’s dangerous rhetoric coming from the Republican nominee. It undermines the democratic process.”

Preparing for the worst, the party has spread the word through social media that intimidated voters should call Schweikart at 814-594-5500 to report any incidents.

At its local office, Schweikart said the controversy has been limited to people standing out in front of its headquarters holding Trump signs and taking many reports about stolen Clinton signs throughout the county.

Frey said that voter intimidation has occurred in the past, recalling an incident in Highland Township where the police were called, but she hopeful that this year’s election will be smooth.

Frey said she anticipates a large voter turnout this election, as the county has gained about 1,000 between the primary and general elections.

In the last presidential election in 2012, Elk County had 66 percent voter turnout.

“We’re looking for this year to be the same,” Frey said. “I wish we could have this kind of turnout in every election.”

“We want voters to vote. We want our numbers to be high,” Frey said. “That’s why we do all of this work. We want people to get out and have a great experience.”

Attempts to contact the Elk County Republican Party before press time were unsuccessful.

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