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As primary election results throughout Michigan rolled in Aug. 2, the numbers from Wayne County, the state’s largest, came in at more of a crawl.
At the time, election officials blamed the removal of modems during the results transmission process. Twitter lit up with reports of election workers driving from voting precincts to their city clerk to deliver results. Only about 12% of Wayne County’s 918 precincts had reported results by midnight.
But county and state officials are saying that this slower process was planned due to online security concerns. Residents can expect November’s general election results to also show up slower than what they’re accustomed to, especially because higher voter turnout is expected.
“The current system is efficient,” said Lisa Williams, spokesperson for the Wayne County Clerk’s office. “It’s important to emphasize that the goal is accuracy over expediency.”
Williams added that although initial results came in slowly, they were posted online within the normal time period of about 24 hours.
Last year, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) issued guidelines recommending local election offices stop sending results while being connected to the internet. This decision was made to make elections more secure and to counter outside interference or access to the voting system.
Based on the recommendation, instead of uploading results using modems, files are manually driven from voting precincts to their city and township halls, manually fed into a computer there, and then sent to the county using a secure file transfer protocol (SFTP). Banks use SFTP to transfer billing data, funds and other information to safeguard private details.
There are three voting systems in the state. The majority of the counties — 65 counties to be exact — use the Dominion voting system and have phased out 3G modems following the EAC guidance, said Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. Because of this phaseout, those counties can no longer use modems.
Williams said the county stopped using 3G modems due to EAC’s guidance, but a message on the county’s website during the election mentioned that the decision was also “coupled with AT&T’s decision in March 2022 to no longer support 3G modems.”
AT&T announced in 2019 that it would cease 3G support and officially ended the service on Feb. 22, 2022, to upgrade wireless networks.
The EAC will no longer consider new or updated systems with modems for certification under the newest guidance, according to a spokesperson from the commission.
Oakland County, the second-largest county in the state, is one of six counties still using modems. It used federally certified 4G modems and reported results faster than other counties during the primary election. The majority of the county’s primary election results — including absentee ballots — were reported by 1 a.m. the day after the election, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said.
Brown said the county will use 4G modems during the general election. She is aware of the guidance to move away from them and said the county may stop using the modems in the future, but that no timeline has been established for that.
“I’m sure 4G will go away too, just like 3G did,” Brown said.
Reach MALAK SILMI, the Report for America Corps Member for Outlier Media, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-985-0377.