Wisconsin Elections Commission approves plan to allow company to sell new election equipment to local governments

'This will give the counties and municipalities more security,' says commission staffer

A man puts a ballot into a counting machine as other voters line up behind him.
Julian Lutz submits his ballot Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at the New Glarus Village Hall in New Glarus, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A Nebraska company will be allowed to sell new electronic voting systems in Wisconsin following approval by the Wisconsin Election Commission.

The state elections commission Thursday approved a plan that allows Election Systems and Software to sell new voting equipment to local governments in the state. The new systems include enhanced software and security capabilities.

The commission’s vote approved sale of two systems, one a paper-based digital-scan voting system, the second supporting sending unofficial results on election day by modem through a secure file transfer.

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A memo to commission members said staff tested the equipment over three mock elections and found they “comply with all applicable state and federal requirements.” The memo said the systems can run a “transparent, fair and secure election.”

“The systems also allow access to the electoral process for individuals with disabilities with the inclusion of the ExpressVote vote capture system,” staff wrote.

Kyle Weber, Wisconsin account manager at Election Systems and Software, said the new machines are updated versions of old systems already used in Wisconsin. They will replace those using Windows 7 operating systems.

“The position a lot of the counties have found themselves in (is) they bought systems as far back as 2015. They bought computers, they bought servers,” he said. “Those are now getting to be up to eight years old, (and are) starting to see some hardware issues as you might imagine.”

While the new systems will provide a software upgrade, commissioners did ask the company about whether they will be able to extend support from Microsoft for Windows 10 beyond 2025, when the company plans to stop supporting the software.

Chris Wlaschin, Senior Vice President and chief information security officer at Election Systems and Software, told the commission that the company was able to extend support for Windows 7 on its machines past Microsoft’s initial end date for the software. He said Election Systems and Software is in talks with Microsoft to do the same for Windows 10.

Robert Williams gave a presentation to the commission on staff’s recommendations. He said the new system will also have a feature that locks down a hard drive if anyone tries to tamper with it. Once locked down, a special code would be required to reopen the system.

“This will give the counties and municipalities more security,” he said. “That way they can have more confidence in their elections at the local level.”

Outside the enhanced operating system and security features, Weber told the commission that “there’s really not a whole lot of differences between the versions that we’re presenting today and what’s in use.”

Commissioner Marge Bostelmann, a Republican appointee and former Green Lake County Clerk, said one of the features of the new system that she liked was that it could read check marks and “x” markings on ballots, as well as the traditional filled-in bubble.

“That’s amazing, because I know whenever we’ve done recounts, almost all the mistakes are because they didn’t fill in the oval, they did something different,” she said.

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