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Collier County tests voting machines amid widespread concerns of election fraud

Collier County sign.JPG
Katiuska Carrillo
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All Florida counties must publicly and privately test voting machines before every election. Collier County's Canvassing Board gathered to test machines ahead of the Feb. 1 Naples city election.

Collier County’s Supervisor of Elections Office publicly tested voting machines on Thursday in preparation for the Naples city elections Feb. 1.

This testing is mandated by law in the state of Florida and is meant to ensure the voting systems are properly programmed, the election is accurately defined on the voting system, and the input, output, and communication devices are working correctly.

“It’s important that the Supervisor of Election’s actions are transparent and that voters feel like they are able to see the process, machinery, and steps that the supervisor takes in order to tabulate our votes,” Diane Moore, Vice President of the Collier County League of Women Voters (LWV), said.

The elections office stresses the importance of transparency in the electoral process. It offers tours of the facility in hopes of combating misinformation, and it says it's always open to inquiries from the public.

While the elections office does what it can to ensure the confidence of voters, some people still express skepticism about aspects of the process.

Founder of the Patriot Project Dan Cook is one of them.

“It seems voting is a lot more complicated today than it was 20 years ago when you would put a piece of paper in a box and people would actually count it,” Cook said. “With voting by mail, early voting, and electronic voting machines it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around it so that’s why I’m here today.”

Cook did exactly what the elections office urges its voters to do if they feel uneasy about the integrity of their vote.

“I encourage them to do what some of them did today,” Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards said. “Come out, watch what we do, and ask questions because we are transparent.”

Cook appreciated the transparency of the board and said he left feeling better about aspects of the process such as mail-in ballots. However, he remains doubtful about electronic voting and intends to research the issue further.

“We have to give credit where credit’s due: Jennifer Edwards and the staff have been very helpful and open about answering questions and showing us the process,” Cook said. “I got a lot of my concerns answered here today.”

These days discussions of election integrity inevitably lead to talk of voter fraud.

“Voter fraud is very uncommon,” Trish Robertson, Public Relations Officer for the Supervisor of Elections, said. “But it does happen on a very small scale, and when it does happen there’s severe consequences for it.”

The punishment for voter fraud in the state of Florida is a $5,000 fine and/or up to five years in prison. A study published by a Columbia University political scientist tracked incidence rates for voter fraud for two years and found that the rare fraud that was reported could be traced to “false claims by the loser of a close race, mischief and administrative or voter error.”

One concern is the verification of signatures on ballots.

“I think there’s a difference between voter fraud and voter mistakes,” Diane Moore of the LWV said. “I think a lot of what we see, at least in Collier County, with respect to signatures that don’t match may be voter mistakes.”

The elections office allows members of the public to stand nearby and watch as workers verify signatures on ballots. Moore has done that in the past.

“You can see the differences or the similarities between the two signatures,” Moore said. “As a voter and a member of LWV, my confidence level in the ballots they were rejecting or accepting was increased.”

According to Robertson, Collier County deals with any suspicions of voter fraud.

“Every time we suspect it, we turn the records and information over to the district attorney and they take a look at it,” Robertson said. “A lot of times what they find is that someone made a mistake or there was no intent behind it.”

The misinformation surrounding the electoral process has been making headlines once again after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed the creation of a special law enforcement unit to monitor the state’s elections and investigate claims of fraud.

Voter fraud has become a highly politicized issue despite no evidence of widespread fraud impacting recent elections. However Dan Cook of the Patriot Project remains focused on election integrity.

“I don’t think voter fraud is being riled up,” Cook said. “It’s a legitimate concern.”

Voters like Moore don’t think DeSantis’ proposal is necessary.

The Supervisor of Elections Office did not respond to a request for comment regarding the governor’s proposal, but Robertson said that the office does advocate for anything that will help voters feel that their elections are secure, whether that involves transparency or more investigations at the state level.

Collier election officials believe two things are clear: transparency in government gives voters more confidence in those elected to represent them, and transparency builds confidence that a person's vote matters.

“The democratic process is the cornerstone of our country,” Robertson said. “This is how we elect individuals who are going to be making extremely important decisions as we navigate what’s going on in this world.”