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By LuAnn Schindler

Supervisors do not act on resolution

Holt County group requests a return to hand counting of ballots


September 8, 2022

A group of individuals concerned about voter integrity addressed Holt County Supervisors, Aug. 31, about the possibility of handcounting ballots.

Chairman Bill Tielke told the gallery of 35 visitors the board was not required to make a decision following public comment.

Grace Coleman, of Atkinson, told supervisors she is concerned about the safety of this November’s election.

“If we cannot be assured that our elections are secure and no one has changed any results, then we just as well continue the process and acceept the candidates who have been selected for us,” Coleman said.

According to Coleman, problems with vote counts began with the introduction of electronic counters.

Coleman addressed county clerk Cathy Pavel and said, “This has nothing to do with your job performance. We all think you do an excellent job on the elections. It’s the tabulation software we’re concerned with.”

Coleman asserted Holt County citizens “have the authority to make this change in the election system,” based on a Nebraska state statute regarding elections.

Barb Otto, of O’Neill, said voter integrity is a non-partisan issue.

“No matter what your political affiliation, everyone wants a fairly counted vote,” she said.

Concerns introduced to supervisors mirrored discussion points heard in Antelope and other counties across the state, including vulnerability of ES&S voting machines, software weaknesses and remote access, via modem or a USB device.

Shelden Otto told supervisors that citizens should be allowed to have qualified individuals inspect voting tabulation machines and verify the software.

“It should be a transparent process, but it isn’t.”

Otto claimed a low-level hacker “can remotely access and modify the software instructions of voting machines and tabulators.

Otto said hand counting was "the gold standard" for 200 years. He asked for a raise of hands if individuals in attendance wanted to return to a hand count. Approximately 30 individuals in the gallery raised their hands.

Supervisors were each given a USB drive, with clips about voting machine integrity. Otto urged supervisors to review the materials on the drive.

Tielke asked where the hacking is taking place.

Barb Otto said, "I think it's in the software in the tabulator that then goes onto a USB that you send the state. It has to be in Holt County's tabulator."

Tielke said Pavel can show the exact number tabulated in Holt County and the exact number turned into the secretary of state's office.

"It's an exact number," Tielke said.

According to Otto, that's the number of ballots, not the number of votes.

Tielke asked who would be qualified to inspect Holt County's tabulation machine.

Sheldon Otto said, "We can find a programmer who would look at the machine, but we can't do that. It's not an option. It's not an option because of the way our secretary of state set it up with ES&S."

Otto asserted the seal on the tabulation machine cannot be broken, per an agreement between the state and ES&S.

Jason Schindler, of O'Neill, asked if hand counting ballots could take place in the upcoming election to see if it influences the outcome, instead of relying on an algorithm from a machine.

"This isn't an in perpetuity vote, it isn't changing it forever. There's enough information out there to say there are some suspect issues going on and as constituents, we would like to do anything we can to stop it," Schindler said.

Supervisor Dustin Breiner asked what it would look like if ballots from the 2020 election could be counted.

Pavel said she wouldn't know where to begin. She asked audience members when counting would begin.

Schindler suggested using the process utilized prior to voting machines becoming an accepted method.

Tielke asked Holt County Attorney Brent Kelly for his legal expertise.

Kelly said a map handed out by audience members show Holt County is "in the green," meaning "it is like Holt County's election was run cleanly."

"I would tend to agree with that. I would be very shocked to find out there was something wrong with the way Holt County did its elections," Kelly said.

He asked audience members if they are aware of any discrepancies in the county from the raw data from the 2020 election.

Schindler urged supervisors to read materials from and speak to individuals working with the Nebraska Voter Accuracy Project to learn more.

"If we eliminate the tabulator and we hand you this hand-counted data, do we eliminate the possibility of fraud? That's really all this about, us taking the chance of fraud out of the equation," Schindler said.

"You're trading a risk for a risk," Kelly said. "You're trading a risk you've got a bad machine or bad software or a bad counting person with bad software. I don't know which one is greater," the attorney said.

Kelly said Nebraska State Statute 32-10-41 and the use of the word, "may" needs interpretation.

Kelly said it could also mean "may not." In consulting the Nebraska Attorney General's office and the secretary of state's office, Kelly learned a county clerk may not choose to hand count.

"Prior to 2006, this was a hand-count situation. The legislature did away with those laws, that did away with hand counting, by statute, in 2007. From 2007 on, you need pursuant to the voting act, you need secretary of state approval for any method," Kelly said.

Hand counting is not an approved method.

"You cannot expect your county clerk to defy the secretary of state. Under Nebraska law, she is subordinate to the secretary of state in some of these matters," Kelly said.

Supervisors did not take any action following the public presentation.


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