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High turnout primary saw no voting problems, elections director says

An hour after a voter told the Henderson County Board of Commissioners he was certain he had never voted in a fair and accurate election, the county's elections director told the board that every test had shown the county's voting machines to be 100 percent accurate and that it would be impossible for anyone to hack the electronic machines from outside.

In a high turnout election for a mid-term primary, Henderson County saw 23,721 voters on Election Day May 17 and in early and absentee voting, a 48 percent increase over 2018 turnout. Continuing the trend of an increase in early voting, the county found that more than 10,000 voters cast ballots early, double the number in 2018, while absentee voting increased five-fold, to 626 from 123 in 2018.

"So it was a pretty high turnout but we had four sites open so we had no lines anywhere and we had no machine fail," Elections Director Karen Hebb told county commissioners Monday night during a recap of the primary. "We didn't have any issue with anything this election."

In public comment time at the top of the meeting, Karl Gessler, a musician and evangelist, urged commissioners not to fund electronic voting machines because of what he described as the potential for fraud.

Responding to commissioners' questions about elections security, Hebb described the pre- and post-election testing that ensures safe voting.

"Before every election, we test every machine," she said. Test ballots are fed through the machine and hand counted by local elections officials. Then, "the Friday before the election, the state board selects two precincts for us to audit, hand to eye." One was the Etowah precinct, where 1,733 ballots were machine and hand counted, and the other was Long John Mountain, where 372 ballots were machine and hand counted. In both cases the results were identical.

"There's no way anyone can get into our machine because it's never hooked to the internet and there's no way it can be accessed," she said. "Only employees are able to go into where our machines are kept. Our programming room is always locked when we're not using it. We do everything we can to make sure there is security."

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta praised the work of the elections board.

"All of us have been and were candidates," he said. "The Board of Elections does a great job with candidates — especially first-time candidates — helping candidates with the process of filing and record-keeping and these folks are available to candidates. You call 'em up and ask them a question and they are so helpful. They're not there to catch you in gotcha moment. They're there to help anybody that wants to run for any office."