Loudon, TN — Before 2016. Alice Clayton never thought twice about election security when she went to cast her ballot.
But after reports of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, she had a question: could her vote in Loudon County be hacked?
As part of our 10Listens report, we took her to the people in charge of making sure her vote counts. First up, Loudon Co. Election Administrator Susan Harrison. The interviews below have been editing for clarity.
Alice Clayton: So where is the voter registration database stored?
Susan Harrison: The database is stored on the hard drive, here on the server and then there’s firewalls to prevent people from hacking into it. Every night we back up the voter registration roll on a thumb drive.
AC: So you do that every day?
SH: I count every day how many people had voted that day and how many people in the database had voted in the system. That can take hours to find the needle in the haystack, but we don’t got home until the needle has been found.
AC: Are there paper copies of the database, that would be a paper backup in case something failed?
SH: Every night after early voting I run a list of who has already voted up to that point just for my peace of mind. I always say I’ve killed some trees but you have the peace of mind .
AC: (laughs) Same reason I print off electronic receipts.
SH: As our IT person said one time, you’re in the Super Bowl, you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
AC: That’s perfect.
AC: Are the electronic voting machines online?
SH: The electronic voting machines are not online and have never been online. The machines that tally the votes in our county and all the other counties they have never been online.
AC: Where are the voting machines stored?
SH: Here in Loudon County, they’re stored in our office in the storage room in the back. There’s three keys to this office and they’re retained by employees of this office. The county mayor doesn't own a key and the maintenance department doesn't own a key. It is our office. Literally.
AC: Do all of the ballots get counted?
SH: Yes they do. In the state of Tennessee all ballots are counted regardless of whether it’s a landslide race or what.
Next, 10News set up a video chat between Clayton and the state coordinator of elections, Mark Goins.
Alice Clayton: Is it possible to hack an electronic voting machine?
Mark Goins: In the current election structure that we have it would not be. We have all kinds of lines of defenses and checks and balances. We do not allow our machines to be connected to the internet. So therefore it would be difficult to even get to to first base let alone with all the checks and balances that we have to get a home run. Of course, in that analogy a home run would be hacking an election.
AC: Is there anything that you’ve changed since the 2016 election? Since we know there was some interference by a foreign country.
MG: We always are adapting to the situations that we have in hand. One thing that has changed is that elections were designated critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security. One thing that has changed is that other states are sharing other information what they're seeing out there, what they're hearing and there’s a network now put in place.
AC: That’s good. that’s very reassuring that states are actually talking to each other. What a novel idea.
AC: The machines here are about 12 years old, is that old in voting machine years?
MG: The machines are 12 years old, but they’re still functional they’re still trustworthy.
AC: Do you all give guidelines to the county for [security protocols]?
MG: Yes we do. We have guidelines that we have going around and released to the counties
AC: Do you have IT people who work on those kinds of things?
MG: Absolutely, we have a security team. We worry about election security 24/7 so you don’t have to.
After the interviews, Clayton told 10News she felt reassured that her vote would matter.
"In this election, every single vote counts," she said. "And I want to make sure that mine is counted."