Election hoax alert
Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker isn’t worried that a new vote-by-phone pilot program being tested here in the May primary will cause problems like the ones that derailed the Iowa caucuses, but there are plenty of other issues keeping her awake at night.
Social media hoaxes and increased concern by the federal government about election security have become more intense recently.
“We’re in a world where we’ve never dealt with these federal agencies before,” Walker said.
The Elections Center recently had an assessment by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to find ways to better protect the local voting system.
Homeland Security suggested moving some ballot boxes to better secure her building. Other suggestions included more video equipment and other protective measures for the Elections Center office on West Main Street in Medford.
Walker is also concerned about social media, particularly spoofs that attempt to disrupt the election process.
The secretary of state in 2016 became aware of a photo of a ballot posted on social media that had the same presidential candidate listed twice. After election officials started trying to track it down, the secretary of state discovered someone had Photoshopped a ballot to make it appear like the same presidential candidate was listed twice.
“It was a complete hoax,” Walker said. “These kind of issues can disrupt the election process.”
She said cyber security is on the radar of election officials, creating nerve-wracking situations, including ransom-ware demands.
While the app problem in Iowa was related to software created for the Democratic Party, the app used by the Elections Center is a much more limited pilot project.
In the November election, 213 Jackson County voters, mostly military members overseas, were eligible to use the Voatz vote-by-phone app. Of those, just 27 chose to use it.
While the number may be low, it’s still an important service for soldiers stationed in other countries.
“They’re out there fighting for our freedom to vote, so we should help make it easier for them to cast their ballots,” Walker said.
The soldiers also could choose to fill out a paper ballot and attempt to mail it back to Jackson County, though mail delivery can be spotty in war-torn countries.
Walker said she expects a similar number of voters in May will use the phone app, built by Boston-based Voatz.
It will likely be many years before the app is widely available to other voters, because the state wants to test it out thoroughly at first.
“We’re not there yet,” she said. “We’re taking baby steps.”
She said her office is constantly weighing the needs to maintain the security and integrity of the election process while making sure that voters have accessibility to get their ballots counted.
Jackson County is one of five counties in the country that have participated in the pilot project.
Walker said it took Oregon more than a decade to roll out the vote-by-mail system, and she expects more technological changes in the election system in the coming years.
“America was built on the willingness to take a chance,” she said.
Voters will notice some differences this election, including no longer needing to apply a stamp to the ballot return envelope.
Another change is that the envelopes will no longer feature a blue stripe, which has been replaced by a yellow stripe to better conform with scanner technology.
Also, Chris Walker’s name will no longer be placed on the envelope that is mailed back to the Elections Center, a step state election officials decided to take because county clerks also run for office, and they didn’t want incumbent clerks to have an election advantage.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.