Illinois Elections: What Exactly Does Best Practices Mean to David Orr?

April 11, 2012 @

At the end of the meeting I questioned what code they had to justify:  opening the polls early, sealing the ballot box the night before, related to code violations on the security on the Voter Supply Container (VSC) that ships all voting equipment to the precincts, and the lack of sealing and/or locking of the ballots and memory devices transported back to the receiving stations following the elections.  Despite the new brochure, they had no answer to my questions.  It is as we predicted.

Executive Summary: Fail

View or Download the Brochure on Scribd

On Tuesday, April 3rd, Defend the Vote had the opportunity to meet with officials at Cook County Elections. We met in Chicago at Cook County’s office. The topic of the meeting was election security. I met with Jan A. Kralovec, Director of Elections, Cook County Clerk’s Office, Noah Praetz, Deputy Director of Elections, and Kevin McDermott, IT Director. Jan introduced the meeting, answered a few questions and then left the three of us to discuss details.

To questions raised before the meeting, Can a Lawsuit be Avoided, the short answer is likely not, Cook County Elections did not have code to justify deficient and unlawful security practices.

The tone of the meeting was informational. I was there to learn and to ask questions about code violations. Deputy Director Noah Praetz, was willing to discuss what Cook County does for security, but did not come prepared to show code justifying the procedures they used. He literally said he did not want to discuss code…

DTV received a new brochure that Cook County prepared to demonstrate systems of control in ballot security. This handout can be downloaded or viewed on Scrib. Noah and Kevin used the brochure, point by point, to go through each aspect of security. The handout outlines control procedures and audits in place protecting the elections.

At the end of the meeting I questioned what code they had to justify: opening the polls early, sealing the ballot box the night before, related to code violations on the security on the Voter Supply Container (VSC) that ships all voting equipment to the precincts, and the lack of sealing and/or locking of the ballots and memory devices transported back to the receiving stations following the elections. Despite the new brochure, they had no answer to my questions. It is as we predicted.

Executive Summary: Fail

Let’s look at the brochure and the security protocols asserted. I will do this in three parts. Today we will look at the section titled ”Controls”, tomorrow we will look at “Audits”, and on Thursday we will summarize with an overall assessment of Cook County’s election security.

Before we begin, note that Noah Praetz expressed some amount of pride over the security of the vote in Cook County. He mentioned that Cook County had received a grant from the EAC (Elections Assistance Commission) for funds to increase Internet voting and security, and with the objective to set themselves up as “Best Practices”for election security for the entire country.

I was, frankly, stunned. How can Cook County try to justify that they have “best practices” nationwide, when they fail “best practices” in Illinois? Not following Illinois Law is not a minor manner. We will discuss this on Thursday.

Cook County is in black, my response in blue ink.  Reference to “David Orr Disregards Illinois Law” will provide additional background details.


Physical and cyber access to our election equipment is limited. FALSE – The VSC has a universal key.  Mr. Praetz openly admitted the key securing the VSC is an universal key, and that it is sent home in unsealed envelopes with equipment election judges for lengths of times of at up to 10 weeks (he wasn’t specific beyond that time frame).  In addition, he openly admitted these VSC’s are not sealed.  So this affirmation is FALSE.  The truth is, Cook County does not maintain a secure chain of custody of voting equipment after it leaves the warehouse and arrives in-precinct.

Voting equipment when stored at in-precinct voting centers is not required to be kept in a locked or sealed room.  It is delivered to these locations 10 days before the elections.  It is natural that the equipment is guarded, but there isn’t a paper or seal tracking system securing the chain of custody of the equipment during this time period. Illinois law attempts to secure the ballot by strictly securing the key, and by sealing the VSC and each voting device within.

The three of us discussed the reality that it is not an uncommon practice for precinct committeemen to open VSC’s prior to an election to check to make sure everything is “ready” (an old school and formerly common practice in precincts).

The fact remains, nefarious intention or altruistic, because there is no seal on the VSC, there is no way to CERTIFY that the equipment was not tampered with.  Also, Illinois law is specific and Cook County is not following it.

To Mr, Praetz’s point that Cook County is not the only jurisdiction that uses universal keys to lock unsealed voting equipment, we concur further investigation is warranted!  Defend the Vote will send an email to all County Clerks and the State Board of Elections in the near future to follow up.

Physical security

  • Equipment at the election warehouse is secured by the following methods: locked doors, secured storage space, electronically-encoded security access and identification, and video monitoring. (On April 10th, Defend the Vote requested to view the warehouse security)
  • All voting machine data ports and internal access points are sealed.  Machines are delivered in locked cabinets to polling locations. FALSE -See notes above.  The cabinets are locked with a universal key and Cook County is breaking Illinois statute because it does not bother to secure this key.  There literally are thousands of copies.

Stating that all data ports are sealed is absolutely false.  The memory pack for the ballot scanner is not sealed; it is locked in the VSC and left out over night at the polling place without a seal.  The scanner’s back door where the memory pack is stored is locked by a universal tube key that is easily acquired and replicated.

  • In the polling places, election workers verify that all security seals are intact prior to the commencement of voting. FALSE  -The ballot scanner is unsealed, there is no part of the procedures that instruct judges to check to view if it has been tampered with. The equipment judge instruction manual does not instruct the judge to assure the door on the scanner is locked; or to record that it was checked,; or instruct that should it be unlocked that election officials should be alerted  prior to opening the polls (statute requires notification).

The same ballot scanner is left out, (unsealed) of the VSC the night before the election. It is left out tucked into the open VSC, but again, this is a universal key. The chain of custody on the memory pack after the elections is not secure. Away from the public’s view, the ballot box is sealed the night before the election. Lastly, election workers are not instructed to secure seals placed on the machines are the same ones placed on at the factory before shipping. Cross checking of numbers is not done.*

Mr. Praetz had no excuse for why, under David Orr’s stewardship, Cook County seals the ballot box the night before the elections.  He said: ‘Does it really matter with the majority of voting is done electronically?’  I countered that surely he was not suggesting Cook County could ignore the legislature which clearly mandates the ballot box is to be checked and sealed in public view.

For many reasons, I was unsatisfied with Mr. Praetz’s response.  It shows a clear lack of best practices.  There is no provision in the instructions permitting the opening of the ballot box the morning of the elections as law requires, and no place to record the action one way or the other.  Pollwatchers are entitled to see inside the ballot box.  It is the law.  What exactly does best practices mean to David Orr?

  • All voting is conducted in a public space, without concealment of curtains, and in the constant view of election judges and pollwatchers.  FALSE – Ballot boxes are left out overnight, and not checked in the public space in front of pollwatchers as law requires.
  • Election workers inventory paper ballots in precinct before voting begins. FALSE  – Ballots are counted by wrapped but unsealed packages the night before the elections. Ballots are stored in unsealed VSC’s for up to 10 days before the election.  Ballots are transported after the election, UNSEALED and unwrapped,  in an unlocked, but sealed carrying case.  After the election, Illinois law requires voted ballots be placed in a separate bag,  wrapped with tape in a cross like pattern, and sealed with all of the judges signatures affixed before being placed in a sealed and locked carrying case such that they can be moved without being disturbed.

Following the elections, DTV is unaware of any cross check procedure at the warehouse when cleaning out the VSC’s to assure that all ballots are accounted for, precinct by precinct, as in an inventory.

Cyber security

  • The voting tally system is kept on a secure, private network with controlled access. (We would like to learn more)
  • Voting machines are programmed to be used only on the date of the election. (Okay…  Our next segment will go deeper into the actual audit procedure Cook County uses.)
  • A number of digital data and hardware validation checks are performed before, during and after the election. (Our next segment will go deeper into the actual audit procedure Cook County uses. Please note, these audit checks are the procedures Cook County feels earns them the status of Best Practices for the nation.)
  • Audits are conducted to verify that no tampering has occurred. (see above)

Paper trail

The Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail on the electronic voting machines acts as another layer of security with the voters acting as watchdogs. (Cook County Elections state they do audit the VPPAT for in-precinct voting and in some post election candidate contests.)

  • A paper trail of votes scrolls behind a protected shield for the voter to see before he or she casts a ballot. Research reveals, fully 1/3 of voters do not check the paper trail. Are error patterns tracked and assessed on a machine by machine level and across the full election?  No.  Is the overall electronic security sufficient? This is part of what we are looking forward to learn more about.

However, interestingly, DTV learned that Cook County elections can generate a PDF copy of this VPPAT scroll, which it then will search to help perform audits of early voting as needed for candidate challenges.  This was news to me. I did not know Cook County included early voting in re-tabs for candidate challenges.  I also was not aware that the machines produced PDF copies of each vote for election authorities.

I was unsure if I should be reassured or disturbed to know that the electronic vote is stored in searchable and reproducible pdf form.  I asked about the anonymous nature of each ballot, and received assurances that the voter of individual electronic ballots cannot be traced back to a voter ID.  This is contrary to my knowledge of digital data management.  Everything is coded and traceable based on the search parameters.  We will look further and report back.  Contact[email protected] if you can help research electronic  security)

  • Paper trails are reviewed during recounts as the primary source ballot data. (This is true – It works only if the paper trail is secure.  Signed (by all 5 judges) paper scrolls are transported after voting in a sealed but unlocked blue ballot carrying case.  DTV is re-assured the judges sign the scroll, but has not completed investigation of the chain of custody on the early voting VPPAT ballots.   I am curious to learn more about the pdf and whether or not the audits secure the VVPAT used to re-tab is the original VVPAT.

Reviewing the notes above, score for yourself. How secure is your vote in Cook County?

As far as the questions: Is Cook County conducting unlawful elections?  Sadly, they presented no information to dispute my facts, so the answer is Yes.


Original Article

Published on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 05:33 | Written by Sharon Meroni

One Comment → “Illinois Elections: What Exactly Does Best Practices Mean to David Orr?”


    7 years ago

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