Controversial Voting Machine "Sleepovers" Still Legal

Ohio Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has been considering putting an end to the local election committees practice of "sleepovers" for touch screen voting machine, in which local poll workers pick the election machines up from the county election offices before the election, and then take them home with them prior to transporting them to polling locations on election day. Sometimes the machines can sit for days "sleeping over" in a worker's garage. Brunner has met resistance from Elections workers but the practice has been criticized as a hole in election security and integrity, the sleepover hours being the perfect time to hack the machines. The Associated Press reports:

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner announced plans in February to scrap the practice known as "sleepovers" because of security concerns. But her proposal is being attacked by county elections officials who argue that the custom makes it easier to transport machines to polling sites.

"She has listened to the concerns of election officials and ultimately wants to do what is best for their process but also make sure that all safety precautions are considered," Brunner spokesman Patrick Gallaway said yesterday.

Brunner has frequently referred to a Licking County poll worker who took a machine home for safekeeping and improperly voted on it, fearing there wouldn't be enough time on Election Day.

But local election officials in Ohio are of a split mind on the practice. Opponents say it's impractical and constitutes a security risk. Supporters say it's a necessary step to facilitating elections statewide, even if they can't always agree on who benefits most. "We do not do sleepovers," says Ben Piscitelli, a spokesperson for the Franklin County Board of elections. He says that, as a large county with a large number of machines to account for, the logistics of allowing sleepovers would be too much to account for, but that it might make sense for a smaller county with fewer precincts and machines to monitor. Instead, he says, "we do on site deliveries of voting machines to the precinct starting anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks before the election."

Some local officials around the state see matters differently however. Steve Harsman, director of the Montgomery County board of elections, says that, as a large county, the sleepover practice is logistically crucial to getting machines to polling places around the county. To address security concerns, the county does not allow presiding judges to take machines prior to election day, and the machines are kept separate from the electronic memory cards that records data until the election, where the equipment is unsealed in the presence of a Republican and a Democratic monitor.

For its part, the Secretary of State's office is remaining uncommitted. A department official says that the matter is of great concern to the Secretary, as are all matters of election security. In the coming months the Secretary plans to meet with local officials and issue a set of directives on a "host" of issues, of which sleepovers could be included.

Perhaps the most unequivocal support for the practice came from, Licking County, the county Brunner cites for their much publicized breach of a touch screen machine by a poll worker prior to election day. "We use it, we utilize it, and we're not getting rid of it," said a Licking County election official, "and that's about all I have to say about it."