A drone monitors a restricted area. Election denier Mike Lindell is touting the use of drone-mounted devices to monitor polling places. (Getty Images)
The Kenton County Board of Elections unanimously voted to explicitly disallow the presence of wireless monitoring devices at polling places on Election Day.
The meeting’s topic came as the result of discussions that Kenton County Board of Election Chair Gabrielle Summe had at a recent county clerks meeting, where she heard about My Pillow Founder and election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell’s efforts to hawk a device he contends can detect if a voting machine is connected to the internet.
“These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night,” said Summe, the Kenton County clerk.
“I just want to have a prepared way of handling this,” Summe added later in the meeting.
Uneasily dubbed “WMDs” or “wireless monitoring devices,” the devices are about the size of a hardback novel and can be attached to flying robotic drones or carried by hand. Lindell first presented the device at a right-wing election conspiracy event in August, where he claimed that the devices could be used to uncover election fraud.
“We’ve been told a lie over years now that the machines are not on the internet,” Lindell said at the event. “… What if I told you that there was a device that’s been made for the first time in history that could tell you that that machine was online?”
Lindell said the devices could be attached to flying drones and flown around polling places to scan the area for Wi-Fi signals and the devices connected to them. He turned one of the devices on at the event, which seemingly detected the audience members’ phone hot spots and other local signals before sorting them into categories. A projector showed the results on the wall behind Lindell.
Lindell claimed that the device would then send the collected data for additional analysis at a “command center” in an undisclosed location.
It’s unclear from the video alone if the devices can actually detect Wi-Fi signals or if it was a contrivance of the presentation, but the board members all agreed that the usage of such devices at a polling place would be in clear violation of Kentucky law.
“We can’t allow any chance of interference with the election,” said Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn.
Broadly speaking, photography and other media capture is not allowed at polling locations. Voters are allowed to bring in their smart phones to polling places, and they can take selfies with their ballots. News outlets are also allowed limited use of photography, but most other forms of media capture are illegal.
Kentucky Revised Statute 117.236 states plainly:
“No election officer, voter, or other person permitted by law within the voting room, except for challengers appointed under KRS 117.315, shall use paper, telephone, a personal telecommunications device, or a computer or other information technology system for the purpose of creating a checkoff list or otherwise recording the identity of voters within the voting room, except for the official use of the precinct signature roster that is furnished or approved by the State Board of Elections and is otherwise permitted by law.”
The election board will post this law and other prohibitions outside of polling places on Election Day to ensure that voters are apprised of the laws against election interference.
“You can self take a selfie of yourself with your ballot. That’s it,” said Republican Board of Elections Representative Scott Kimmich. “Nothing else can be photographed. Nothing else can be recorded. And people need to know that. Otherwise, it’s voter intimidation or tampering with the election outcome, and they will be prosecuted.”
Election conspiracy theorists like Lindell have argued that voting machines, contrary to official statements, are connected to the internet, which allows nefarious agents to falsify election results. President Joe Biden’s victory against against former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is a particular focal point for election conspiracies.
Although individual cases of voter fraud do occur, most large-scale conspiracy theories that Lindell and his allies like to throw around have been discredited. Still, the theories continue to hold appeal in the right-wing of the Republican Party, and even some local candidates, such as former Erlanger Council Member Steve Knipper, who lost the GOP nomination for Kentucky secretary of state to incumbent Michael Adams this year, have openly endorsed claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Voting machine vendors vary from county to county, but each vendor must pass strict federal and state guidelines before they can be used. Per Kentucky statue, all voting machines in the commonwealth are air-gapped, meaning they lack the technology for internet connectivity. The only three vendors certified in Kentucky are Hart InterCivic, Election Systems & Software and MicroVote. Kenton County uses Electronic Systems & Software machines, the marketing materials of which state they’re never connected to the internet.
“We all feel very confident that none of our equipment is connected to the Internet or can be accessed by the Internet,” Summe said.
In spite of this, the board members were aware that most polling places as well as some public places have Wi-Fi infrastructure.
“That would be kind of hard not to say that any facility that has Wi-Fi available is not going to show up on a device that says there’s an internet connection,” Summe said. “So what is the true purpose of this?”
Summe and others thought that these devices, if they work, could be used to collect data and other information from voters’ smart phones.
“That’s when I was concerned because the more I thought about it, I thought, well, is it going to interfere with what happens on election day?” Summe said. “Is it intended to modify something? Is it designed to come out with a specific result to prove something…?”
The board concluded that an official statement explicitly disallowing the use of the machines was warranted in case someone was caught trying to use one or if someone asked a poll worker if they could bring one into a polling place.
The board canceled their normal meeting for next month due to its proximity to Election Day, but the board members will be available to the public all day on Nov. 7 to deal with any issues that may arise.
To see deadlines on voting and get instructions on the different ways to vote, visit the Kenton County Board of Elections website. The final day to request a mail-in absentee ballot is Oct. 24, 2023.
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