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About Voting Systems

A voting system is a method of casting and processing votes on a ballot to fill an office or decide an issue that appears on a ballot in an election. A voting system consists of three main components: the election management system, the precinct count system, and the central count system. A voting system also encompasses other things like procedures, operating manuals, supplies, printouts, and other software necessary for the system’s operation. See section 97.021(47), Florida Statutes.

In Florida, all voting is by paper ballot. Election materials including ballots must be kept for at least 22 months. So if there is a recount because of a close race, the voter ballots can be rescanned through a tabulator or examined as allowed by law.

Hardware and Software Testing and Certification

The Florida Secretary of State’s Office oversees voting system certification. Any voting system used in an election in Florida must first be tested and approved for purchase and use. The State rigorously tests voting systems that includes, among other things, systems hardening for enhanced security, and complex equipment safeguards and data encryption along every step of the way. Additionally, before testing can begin, the vendor must send a “trusted build” (i.e., original software and firmware source) from a Voting System Testing Laboratory certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Florida currently has certified voting systems for two major vendors. See webpage on Voting Systems resources for a list of the current versions in use in each county.

All members of the testing and certification testing team are required to pass a level-two criminal background check. Additionally, all Department of State staff that make recommendations and/or determine whether to approve a voting system is required to sign a non-pecuniary interest statement.

Security of Voting Systems

Voting system software is only issued by the State through a “trusted build” process. A strict and documented chain-of-custody process is followed for all voting system devices. Secured installation procedures precede and occur during installation of purchased or upgraded equipment. The certified vendor sends the installation disks directly to our office and we ensure that the install disk includes exactly the same system that we tested and certified. A county must obtain the voting system installation disks from our office. County voting system components related to the trusted build and ballot processing are on an air-gapped network to isolate the voting system from internet-based threats. The individual thumb drives that record the votes from the precincts, early voting sites, and vote-by-mail central count tabulators are digitally signed and secured and equipment cannot be accessed without using two factor authentication.

Counties are required to adopt and implement minimum security procedures. These procedures cover a range of processes and activities, including but not limited to, staffing and facilities security to logic and accuracy testing to ballot distribution and transport and voting equipment storage. The State reviews these procedures biennially. See section 101.015(4), Florida Statutes; Rule 1S-2.015, Florida Administrative Code.

Pre- and Post- Election Voting System Testing

Before each election, the county performs a Logic and Accuracy Test, to ensure that ballots are printed correctly and that the voting system is counting votes correctly. This testing is publicly noticed and open to the public. See section 101.5612, Florida Statutes. A backup copy of the elections database is sent to the Division of Elections each time a county completes a Logic and Accuracy Test. This backup copy is stored for disaster and recovery purposes.

After every election, the county must perform a post-election certification voting system audit unless there has been a manual recount conducted in that election. See section 101.591, Florida Statutes; Rule 1S-5.026, Florida Administrative Code. This testing is publicly noticed and open to the public.

Voting System Application

Any person or entity submitting a voting system for approval must have a registered agent on file. See section 101.5605(3), Florida Statutes. The Florida Voting System Standards provides the process for an applicant to seek voting system’s approval. See sections 101.5605101.5606, and 101.56062, Florida Statutes; Rule 1S-5.001, Florida Administrative Code; form DS-DE 101.

Any information submitted as part of that application constitutes a trade secret or is otherwise confidential or exempt from the public records disclosure requirements of Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, must be marked before submission. The applicant bears responsibility for adequately marking information that is a trade secret or otherwise confidential or exempt.