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States prepare for midterms with audits and paper backups

With midterm elections right around the corner, election officials says they’re focused on putting contingency plans in place so voting can continue even if systems are disrupted.

Edgardo Cortés, the former Virginia Commissioner of Elections and current Election Security Advisor at the Brennan Center for Justice, said he is focused on low-tech plans to ensure voting continues to take place.

These plans include having enough provisional ballots and having a back-up paper poll book at each voting location -- “things that will keep the process going and allow people to vote even if we end up with a worst-case situation,” Cortés said at a Sept. 24 Brennan Center event.

Brenda Cabrera, the City of Fairfax's general registrar and director of elections, voter registration and elections, said her city is using paper ballots in the November election after Virginia issued rules last year requiring all localities to do so.

Fairfax also plans to download things like the voter rolls ahead of time so election officials will still be able to service voters even if system or connectivity issues are encountered.

Fairfax also completed a pilot of a risk limiting audit, a technique used to ensure the ballot scanners are getting accurate results. The pilot did three different sample sizes for the audit: a full hand count, a sample size of 69 ballots, and a polling audit of about 200 ballots.

While the audits help ensure the ballot scanner are accurate on the back end, logic and accuracy testing of the scanners on the front-end will help prevent inaccurate machines from being used on election day. All of a locality's scanners should go through this process prior to an election, Cortés said.

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