For North Carolina election officials, planning for each election starts months — and in many cases, years — before Election Day. Routine preparations include registering voters, identifying and procuring polling places and early voting sites, training poll workers and precinct officials, preparing and testing voting equipment, and much more.
Below you will find detailed information about the pre-election testing of voting equipment. Combined with a series of audits conducted after the election, this testing helps ensure that voting equipment counts votes accurately across North Carolina and that voters can be confident in the results.
Pre-election processes and tests confirm that the voting machines have the proper software and hardware, that ballots are confirmed with verified candidate and contest content, that all voting machines accurately count those ballots, and that all centralized reporting matches results from all counties.
Acceptance testing ensures that the voting system delivered to a county board of elections by a vendor is the exact system certified for use in North Carolina and that the equipment is in good working condition. This testing is conducted by the county boards of elections with oversight provided by State Board of Elections personnel. Acceptance testing is performed as part of the procurement process for the voting system.
Typically, the acceptance test will demonstrate the system’s ability to work as advertised and tested, including but not limited to:
- Processing ballots for each precinct or polling place in the jurisdiction.
- Rejecting overvotes and votes not in valid ballot positions.
- Handling write-in votes.
- Generating a final report of the election and providing interim reports as required.
- Generating system status and error messages.
- Complying with all applicable procedural, regulatory, and statutory requirements.
- Producing an audit log.
The State Board’s Voting Systems review team reviews ballot images or PDFs produced by the vendor for approval. If the ballot proofs meet the requirements of North Carolina ballot specifications, then the review team will approve the ballots for printing. Before ballots are printed, every ballot style goes through multiple levels of review by the county and state boards of elections.
Logic and accuracy tests, commonly known as “L&A” tests, ensure machines will correctly read each ballot type and accurately count votes in an upcoming election. In all 100 counties, every machine used in the election, including backups, is tested for every election.
Here’s how L&A tests work:
- Test ballots are marked by hand and by ballot-marking devices before they are counted by the tabulator. These test ballots are filled out according to a test script, which is designed to simulate the various combinations of selections voters could make on their ballots during actual voting.
- These marked, test ballots are inserted by hand into every tabulator that will be used for one-stop early voting, Election Day, or to count absentee-by-mail or provisional ballots.
- Test results from the ballots are recorded on a memory device in the tabulator.
- The tabulator also prints the test results onto a paper tape.
- The memory device is removed from the tabulator and inserted into a central computer in a secure area, where results stored on the memory device are compared to the paper tape results and the original test script used to mark the ballots. The results must match exactly for the test to be successful.
After logic and accuracy testing is complete, voting equipment is sealed and locked in a secure area until transported to the voting place. Tamper-evident seals are placed on media ports. Voting machines are never connected to the internet. They do not have modems. A person would have to have physical access to the machine to install any type of virus or malware.
County boards document the chain of custody of their voting equipment when it is moved from its secure storage location. Additionally, even assuming unauthorized access were possible, the tabulators recognize only approved and verified media/USBs and will ignore any unverified media. The coding for a particular election is encrypted and, when it is loaded on a machine, requires the validation of a digital signature to confirm that the data is from a trusted source. System audit logs also identify the details of any changes to the software or access to the machines, with timestamps. Additionally, the machines require a unique physical equipment key to turn the equipment on and to access any media port on the equipment. Only authorized individuals may have keys and security codes to open voting machines.
For more about logic and accuracy testing, please watch the video below.
North Carolina Logic and Accuracy Testing
Mock Election Event
The purpose of the Mock Election event is to simulate Election Night reporting of election results. The event takes place shortly before each election — after acceptance testing, ballot proofing, and L&A testing have confirmed that the ballots are prepared correctly and the voting machines are accurately marking and tabulating votes.
During the Mock Election, county boards and the State Board work together to transfer L&A test results from the results media (i.e., memory devices) from each county board of elections to the State Board’s Election Night Reporting (ENR) software — just as they would do on Election Night. Results transferred into the ENR reporting software must match exactly with results from the memory device and the results tape. Once the match is confirmed, the ENR software will publish the results to an internal website for additional confirmation.