Marshall County officials tackle ballot security before, during and after election

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY Marshall County Assistant Auditor Cindy Reutzel stands at one of the machines used during elections in the Auditor/Recorder office in the Marshall County Courthouse Wednesday. Reutzel and colleagues were testing election equipment 19 days out from the Nov. 6 general election.

“Location, location, location,” is the by-word when selling property.

Similarly, security, security, security is the by-word in the Marshall County Auditor/Recorder office at election time. Be it local, state or federal elections, Assistant Auditor/Recorder Cindy Reutzel and team, backed by the Code of Iowa and sophisticated and highly-monitored machinery, work to ensure all ballots are counted accurately and quickly.

On Wednesday Reutzel demonstrated how secure the process is during a public test of county election equipment.

The test followed a Secretary of State dictated format.

The Times-Republican, local elected officials and guests from Germany and Switzerland watched and listened as Reutzel and Auditor/Recorder Nan Benson explained the test process, and detailed other election day requirements. The session was held in the Auditor/Recorder Office at the Marshall County Courthouse, specifically in the room where tabulation machines are kept.

The room is locked with access by key fob only accessible by Reutzel and staff. That room was not damaged by the July 19 tornado.

“We seal the door even though it is locked,” Reutzel said. “A seal, if removed, will read ‘void,’ so I can tell if anyone has been in the room. The room is sealed until after the canvass by the Board of Supervisors. This year, the canvass is Nov. 14.”

Benson said the room has been sealed for the last five weeks, or since election preparations began. Seals are used on election-related equipment too.

“We use the seals on different items during the election,” Reutzel said. “When staff are delivering padlocked equipment, each padlock will have a seal.”

After the election, audits are conducted to ensure accuracy.

“The Secretary of State’s office is requiring we audit Marshall County totals from the governor’s race,” Reutzel said. “We will machine and hand count. We will audit Nov. 9.”

All 99 counties will audit at least one race, Reutzel said.

Reutzel and Benson said the 125 staff hired for a variety of election day duties are critical, as are full-time staff in the Auditor’s office. Benson and Reutzel emphasized extensive job training is provided.

Benson said they have had 3,300 absentee votes so far, which she said is more than they had in 2016 at this time.

Contention with election management

Election management is not a job for the faint-hearted, regardless if it is at the county or state level in Alaska, Florida or Illinois.

From voter eligibility to ballot language to name placement, the job of managing elections has been an increasingly tough one and thoroughly scrutinized.

The 1960 and 2000 presidential elections spotlighted how politically charged the process is. In 1960, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kennedy of Massachusetts beat Republican nominee and Vice President Richard Nixon by a razor-thin 119,450 votes and an equally narrow electoral college vote.

Some Republicans alleged then Chicago Mayor Richard Daley tampered with Cook County election results, giving Kennedy Illinois and thus the presidency. Conversely, Democrats countered with allegations of Republican vote tampering in “down state” Illinois.

In 2000, hundreds of voters in several Florida counties said votes intended for Democratic nominee Al Gore had gone to Republican George W. Bush.

Ballot re-checks were ordered. However, federal courts stopped the ballot re-checks. The hotly contested race was finalized by a contentious Supreme Court vote 5-4 in favor of Bush.

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Contact Mike Donahey at

641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com