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How safe is your vote in Alabama?

It is the cornerstone of our democracy, our most sacred right as citizens of this country - your right to vote.

Posted: Feb 20, 2020 9:43 PM

It is the cornerstone of our democracy, our most sacred right as citizens of this country - your right to vote.

With the primary less than two weeks away I talked to some candidates, voters, and the man in charge of elections in Alabama to learn what they’re worried about most as we head to the polls this year.

We met several people who are concerned with voter turnout.

“Oh. I’m telling every young person I can - white, brown you name it - black - you know - I’m telling them - vote!” said Roy McCray.

Gloria Richardson, a former poll worker, also lamented the lack of participation in the election.

“Everybody should vote. And I get really angry when I hear someone who complains, but they don’t vote.”

But assuming everyone who can vote does vote, how confident can we be that the vote we cast is the one recorded for our candidate? Could the vote count be manipulated?

“There’s always a chance. I mean, in today’s technological world, that’s possible,” said Chris Lewis, a candidate for Alabama's 5th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

His background is in intelligence surveillance with the military. While it is easy, according to Lewis, it's not likely.

“There’s a lot that can be done. It’s not a hard thing to do. But I don’t think North Alabama is a place that we’re really concerned with it.”

I asked Richardson, the former poll worker, if there’s any way for a vote to be changed.

“No. Because it’s not on the Internet. It just goes to the machine.”

Secretary of State John Merrill is in charge of Alabama's elections. He says your vote is recorded on a stand-alone drive in the voting machine that is only shared with the county supervisor. It is then certified in Montgomery. He says it's very well protected. And as an added measure of security, Alabama will introduce an election audit this year.

“To show that when your vote was cast, it was cast for the candidate of your choice," Merrill said.

So with the integrity of the vote count secured, there is another threat to the election that has officials and candidates alike worried. An even greater threat, they say, than some hackers trying to change votes after they’re cast - are those trying to influence your vote before you get to the polls.

“They’re all trying to mess with our election and we shouldn’t let them do that," said Rep. Bradley Byrne, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Doug Jones.

Byrne said misinformation, especially through social media, is the single greatest threat, and something we should all be aware of.

“If you don’t know the origin, or where something’s coming from, you need to question it,” he said.

It’s a theme every voter we talked to mentioned. Your vote is under constant assault from bad actors on social media.

Richardson is concerned about it.

“I am concerned with the internet putting out false information. Very concerned.”

So is Stephan Newman, who works at a boutique in downtown Huntsville. He is especially worried about older voters, whom he feels are more easily taken in by false information.

“When they go to look up something on Google or Facebook, they expect it to be true, because it’s on the internet, if that makes sense.”

Merrill said the flood of information - or misinformation - on websites and apps, the malicious memes and divisive discourse, is dong us all a disservice.

He said, "They want to share it as often as they can because it reflects their opinion or point of view. And sometimes it leads to confusion.”

Alabama is seeing a surge in voter registration, and record turnout at the polls. Part of that responsibility is making an informed decision.

Byrne puts it this way: “If we make the commitment to vote, if we make the effort to understand the information we got is accurate, then we’ll make the right choice.”

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