St Johns County Heightens Security System Amidst Primary Elections

Less than a week away from the primary elections, counties in northeast Florida Action News Jax an in-depth look at their security systems for voters.

“Before every election we prepare the equipment,” Stan Bethea, the director of Information for the Duval’s County Supervisor of Elections officer said. “We run ballots through them to make sure they tabulate correctly.”

Each piece of equipment is tested by an office administrator prior to elections. It is then run through a chain of command from the Supervisor of Elections office to each of the 199 poll locations.

Bethea said Duval County last upgraded its system in 2012. It was originally purchased from out-of-pocket funds out of allocation from City Council.

“The vendors have more than half the counties in Florida. So we have a lot of other resources we can call for help, assistance, advice when we need it,” he said.

Action News Jax found Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties each use the same tabulation system used to count the votes.

St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections, Vicky Oakes, said they recently purchased new computer equipment to increase security for its voters.

“We bought new hardware, new software, upgraded our firewalls, and we’ve increased the level of security that we have on our office network,” she said.

St. Johns Supervisor of Elections Office now uses two separate programs, a tabulation system and office network.

“Since we’re on a state-wide voter registration system, it’s up to Tallahassee to secure the main system at the state level in Tallahassee and they have done that,” Oakes said. “They spent almost $4 million last year increasing their security levels, increasing their systems, as a lot of us Supervisors have as well.”

Oakes said they received two grants for this new upgrade, $15,000 from the state of Florida and $120,000 from the federal government.

“The world has changed,” Oakes said. “Some industries already had been dealing with these issues over the years already, such as financial institutions, retail, and it finally came to the elections world.”

Early voting ends on this Sunday, August 26. Primary voting begins Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 7 a.m.

However, if someone chooses to vote by mail, the person must send in their vote prior to general elections because it must reach the elections office not later than 7 p.m.