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Straight Talk From Steve: ES & S Machines

Are Nebraska's elections fair, accurate, and transparent? To answer this question, concerned citizens must consider how Nebraska counts its ballots in statewide elections. Nebraska uses ES&S vote counting machines to count its ballots during statewide elections. ES&S stands for a company called Elections Systems & Software. Understanding how these ES&S vote counting machines work is critical for answering these crucial questions about the integrity of our elections.

The use and accuracy of vote counting machines have come under attack ever since Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp, Georgia's Secretary of State, who conducted the election, and Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden. In addition, when Fox News in April of this year agreed to pay Dominion, another manufacturer of vote counting machines, $787 million in order to avert a defamation lawsuit, the settlement left more questions than answers and further raised suspicions about the use of these vote counting machines.

Christopher Gleason recently invoked the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on behalf of The Justice Society in order to request Audit Logs from ES&S. An Audit Log is like the little black box on an airplane. The Audit Logs record every action and every event that ever occurs when using a vote counting machine. If any nefarious activity ever occurs, the Audit Logs would catch it and make a record of it.

ES&S is not releasing important ballot counting information to the public. ES&S denied the FOIA request filed by Christopher Gleason on the grounds that releasing the Audit Logs could compromise the security of future elections. In responding to the FOIA request, ES&S said, "The Logs should additionally be protected from disclosure as the Logs contain sensitive information that if publicized could provide a roadmap to bad actors to attempt to compromise your ES&S voting system."

Concerned citizens do not need to know any sensitive information which would compromise the integrity of future elections; instead, they merely need enough information from the Audit Logs to ensure that past election results have never been compromised or tampered with and ES&S has the capability to release this this kind of information to the public with ease. For example, ES&S machines can be told to print election summaries and precinct reports without compromising sensitive data. In fact, ES&S advertises the ease of this function as a major selling point on its website: "The DS200 generates a detailed audit log of all actions and events that occurred on the unit, which can be printed at any time."

Without a mechanism of transparency to hold election officials accountable for the results of elections, suspicion will likely continue to grow around the use of these vote counting machines. Concerned citizens in Nebraska have now been backed into a corner and are being asked to believe the good word of ES&S.

What many Nebraskans don't know is that Nebraska has just committed itself to using these ES&S vote counting machines for the next seven years. Nebraska's Assistant Secretary of State, Wayne Bena, recently signed a contract with ES&S for $15,746,546.10 for use of the machines over the course of the next seven years. What this means is that any desire to move to hand counting ballots will be off the table for the next seven years.

Earlier this year I introduced legislation that would have required Nebraskans to show a photo ID when voting at the polls, required the use of paper ballots, and required ballots to be counted by hand at the precinct level during statewide elections. Counting ballots by hand is how we used to count ballots in Nebraska, so it can be done. Had the Legislature adopted these methods, we could have averted all of the controversies that will continue to surround the use of these ES&S vote counting machines for the next seven years.


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