County invites public to voting machine tests to ease election integrity concerns

Nearly two years after the 2020 election, concern over the integrity of the electoral process still runs deep in Crow Wing County. A core group of skeptics often attends county board meetings to press the issue. One of their main concerns centers on a distrust of the voting machines used to tabulate ballots.

State law stipulates voting machines must be tested before an election. So Crow Wing County Commissioners have encouraged the public to be on hand this week as they test the voting machines set to go in the August 9 primary and November general election in an effort to increase confidence in the results.

“We test each individual piece of equipment by election judges who will be working in the polling place in that particular precinct on election day. They actually conduct the test,” said administrative services director Deborah Erickson at a county board meeting this week. “We also have election judges who represent different political parties who are there as the witnesses and the verification of the tabulated results that comes off that equipment.”

Crow Wing County saw a record turnout in 2020 with former President Donald Trump prevailing by some 30 percent of the vote. While expressing total confidence in the county’s 2020 election results, earlier this year commissioners deferred to activists’ concerns by requesting a state audit, which Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon turned down. But a last-minute effort to convince the county board to return to hand counting ballots at least for the primary election failed to gain traction, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

Commissioner Paul Koering asked if the county could both hand count the ballots and use the machines, but Erickson said that is not possible with the optimal scanning equipment. Any member of the public or candidate can, however, request and pay for a hand recount of any office on the ballot after the results are certified.

Additionally, after the general election, counties are required to perform an audit in which they randomly draw a certain number of precincts and hand count ballots to ensure they match up with the tabulator results. Based on Crow Wing County’s voter numbers, Erickson said the county is required to randomly select two precincts but may have to draw a third if at least one does not have at least 150 voters.

If there is a difference of more than two ballots, the county is required to draw additional precincts and perform more hand counts. Crow Wing County has never had to do a second count, Erickson said.

In fact, county elected officials may take it a step further in their continuing effort to boost public confidence in the election results this year. The board of commissioners soon plans to discuss the possibility of conducting audits of more than the required two precincts following the November election.