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Administrator of elections talks about voting security
Rotary Election Security 1.jpg
Warren County administrator of elections Susie Davenport provided an insiders perspective on the election process during the Rotary Club of McMinnville’s luncheon on Thursday. - photo by Bethany Porter

The voting process: How secure is it in Warren County?

Next year is an election year so Thursday’s Noon Rotary guest speaker was Warren County administrator of elections Susie Davenport who brought an insiders perspective on the election process. 

Elections used to be a lot different. The process and the machines have changed over time.

“When I started working elections in Warren County we used what we call the chute machines, some of y’all will remember using those. They were large, they weighed about 300 pounds, we had to have them delivered to the polls the day before and picked up the day after election,” said Davenport.

She said they still have one of the large, old voting machines in the basement of the administrative building for posterity. The machines used now are much smaller and lighter. 

“They weigh case and all about 16 to 17 pounds. The officer of election takes them to the precinct with them on election morning and brings them back to our office on election night. We’ve come a long way,” said Davenport.

Davenport’s main focus of her presentation was voting security. 

“The thing that we talk about so much now, and I get frustrated sometimes because it seems like sometimes it is all we think about, is cyber security. Those machines that we use now cannot be hooked up to the internet in any way,” she said. “We have layers and layers and layers of security to ensure our elections are safe and secure.”

Along with the machines not able to be connected to the internet, the TBI and FBI oversee their operations on a larger scale. Signatures also play a significant role in voting security.

“If you have a signature on file with the state of Tennessee, that’s how you sign that [online] form. That signature is pulled from the state,” Davenport said. “We still compare signatures. When you come to vote ever since 2012, you have been required to show a photo I.D. in the state of Tennessee. We still look at signatures, but now we have that picture to look at too.”

Sometimes signatures change and the photos taken for the photo ID’s become outdated, so when they notice that they contact the individual and require updated information to ensure the person attempting to vote is who they say they are.

Davenport also touched on voting by mail during her presentation. 

“We’ve had a lot of talk about by mail voting over the last couple of years. People say ‘Oh, we vote by mail,’ you vote by absentee in Tennessee, you don’t vote by mail,” she said.

In Tennessee, voters do not have the option to vote by mail. They can only vote by absentee ballot or in person. When voters do use an absentee ballot, they must choose a reason why they are voting this way and there are multiple options. Identification is also required when voting this way.

“We have safeguards in place, and we don’t just mail everyone a ballot, we require you to provide some sort of proof of who you are,” said Davenport. 

Davenport believes her office is doing a good job of keeping elections secure. 

“I am proud of the job my office does. We try very hard, we train on signature comparison. We also are going to have a photo ID or an in-person registration for anyone the first time they vote. They have either been identified with a photo ID or they have come to vote and have been identified by a photo ID before they are eligible to do a by mail ballot,” she said.

The Warren County Election Commission try to make registering to vote as easy as possible for those eligible. Last month was voter registration month, and deputies from her office went to the high school and registered 55 18-year-olds to vote. 

“Our major goal is to make sure that anybody in Warren County who is eligible to vote is able to vote and anyone in Warren County who is not eligible to vote doesn’t get to vote,” said Davenport. “Security is important, but your security is only as good as how hard you work at it. All the laws in the world won’t matter unless you enforce them.”