October 26, 2010 in City

Election staff breached security

Proper procedure not followed in two incidents
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A security breach in the Spokane County election office was precipitated by delivery of thousands of ballot envelopes with Auditor Vicky Dalton’s name on them.

Republicans have complained that Dalton, a Democrat, is electioneering when she places her name on mail-in ballot envelopes.

Election workers improperly removed seals from two doors Friday to get a pallet jack to move a shipment of envelopes intended for an election in February.

The procedural failure was one of two Friday. In the second, a broken seal on a bin containing ballots from drop-off boxes wasn’t immediately logged as required.

Just last week, Dalton’s general election opponent, Leonard Christian, and other local Republican Party activists raised questions about the security of the household plastic bins used to transport ballots.

The bins are sealed with plastic ties that must be broken to remove them. Dalton said the seals tend to be brittle when tightly cinched in an effort to make sure flexible lids on the bins can’t be pried open.

The bins are transported in a locked van with a screen to keep the driver and a helper from touching the ballots inside the vehicle.

Christian said Friday’s delivery of more ballot envelopes bearing Dalton’s name seems “pretty arrogant,” given that he might defeat her on Nov. 2.

“I guess the expectation of an incumbent is generally that you’re going to be coming back,” Dalton said.

The 750,000 envelopes delivered Friday are the last of a February-to-February supply – 3.3 million envelopes – that cost $90,678. Dalton said they were printed months ago and were in storage at the printer’s building until the county election office had room for them.

Accompanied by another election worker, voter registration supervisor Sharon Lilyquist broke the plastic seals on two sets of doors to get a pallet jack for the envelopes when they arrived about 7:30 a.m. Friday.

Although Lilyquist relocked the doors, she failed to log her entry into a secure area or to place new seals on the doors. Dalton said Lilyquist “made a human error,” and she and the rest of the staff were warned to follow procedures in the future.

Christian questioned whether Lilyquist and others had adequate training, but agreed that Dalton’s handling of the mistake was appropriate.

To get to the pallet jack, Lilyquist and a helper passed through a room containing ballot-counting machines, but Dalton said the machines hadn’t yet received “logic and accuracy” tests to prepare them for use next week. Dalton said the workers also entered a room containing counted ballots from previous elections, but they had no access to blank ballots.

Electronic key cards limit access to the sensitive rooms to supervisors and others whose duties require them to enter.

Election Supervisor Mike McLaughlin checked computer records to make sure no one else opened the doors while the seals were missing, Dalton said.

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