Texas rights group cautions against voting straight ticket
By David Crowder
Posted on November 3, 2008
The Texas Civil Rights Project has issued an alert warning voters not to vote a straight ticket ballot using electronic voting machines because of reported instances from around the state of straight-party ballots being “flipped” to another party.
The Austin-based organization issued a statement Saturday that it has “grave concern over ballot integrity with the use of paperless voting machines because of problems that have occurred in eight Texas counties, including El Paso County.
“Voters have reported, for example, that when they tried to vote a straight-party, Democratic ticket, the machine flipped their choices to Republican candidates instead,” TCRP Director Jim Harrington said. “In some cases, voters reported the entire ballot being marked Republican by the machine.”
According to the statement, problems have arisen in Collin, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, Travis and Palo Pinto counties.
El Paso County Elections Administrator Javier Chacon said there have been few complaints from voters about the machines seeming to switch votes, but in no instance did a voter say he or she actually voted for the wrong candidate.
“I’m not sure how many complaints we’ve had, but not many. I could count them on one hand,” Chacon said. “In the ones that came to me, the people said they got to vote the way they wanted to vote.”
Randall Dillard, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division, said he was unaware of TCRP’s alert, but acknowledged that there have been some problems reported, though not many.
“With 3-1/2 million votes cast in the state’s 15 major counties, the problems reported to us have been few and far between,” Dillard said. “Local election officials are to investigate any allegation regarding a voting machine not correctly recording the choices that voters are trying to make.”
Neither Dillard nor Chacon wanted to say the problems that have been reported were the result of voter error, but Chacon said he investigated each one and could not find a problem with any machine.
“I'll just say we’re not aware of an election worker being able to recreate the same situation and leave it at that,” Dillard said. “I think it is important that every voter examine the summary screen before they cast their ballot.
“If a voter experiences any problems with candidate selection, then they can go back and make the change or request assistance from the poll worker.”
Harrington, whose organization has a lawsuit against the Secretary of State’s office over the fact that it has not certified the use of an electronic voting machine that offers a paper trail, was critical of both officials’ positions.
“Check out the problems with these voting machines around the state and around the company,” Harrington said. “This thing about blaming the voter seems to be a pretty common excuse everywhere. I find it hard to believe that voters are being careless when they’re casting votes. I think just the opposite.
“The thing is, the county cannot check the (software) codes on these machines to see if there’s a problem, and neither can the secretary of state. If there’s a programming problem, you have to have the company come out and check it.”
Chacon said it appears that some voters intending to vote a straight ticket were told to confirm their choices after voting a straight ticket by going through the ballot and touching their choices individually.
The problem with that is it actually de-selects that candidate, meaning there will be no vote in that race unless the voter then makes another choice.
That is what a voter should do if he or she votes a straight ticket but wants to cross party lines in some races. After de-selecting the straight-party vote for that candidate, a voter can then choose a different party’s candidate by touching a different name.
“I think overall, the touch screens are good and secure,” Chacon said, adding he has had no complaints from voters who said their straight-party votes were flipped to the other party as described in the TCRP’s voter alert.
El Paso County uses Premier Election Solution machines that were being made by Diebold when the county bought its first electronic voting machines nine years ago.
He said there have been many improvements in the machines and the software since to improve their reliability and security.
TCRP's alert stated the counties from which problems have been reported use machines made by three different companies: Election Systems & Software, Premier Election Solutions, and Hart InterCivic.
"This shows the pervasiveness of the problem," Harrington said in the statement. "Whether this happens through electronic error, machine programming or fraud, the result is the same: Voters are unable to cast their votes for their preferred candidate.
"This is exactly why 31 states in the nation now require some kind of paper trail."
Newspaper Tree was unable to reach anyone from TCRP for follow-up questions about the voter alert.
Dillard said some small Texas counties still use paper ballots, which is always an option.
But, he added that none of the machines on the list the state has approved for counties to chose from offers a "voter verified paper audit trail."
"One of the reasons we have not certified a system like that in Texas is we believe there's still some questions regarding ballot secrecy with them," he said.
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To reach David Crowder, write to email@example.com or call (915) 351-0605
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