Democrats' Suit Demands State 'Fix' Voting Machines

Party says eSlate has flawed method of recording votes

Democrats' Suit Demands State 'Fix' Voting Machines
photo by John Anderson

The Texas Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic-voting machines record votes improperly and seeking an injunction prohibiting the machines' use until the alleged flaw is fixed. If it can't be fixed, the suit requests that the eSlate be prohibited from use in any further elections. Hart InterCivic is an Austin-based company, and the eSlate is the standard voting machine used in Travis Co. and 101 other Texas counties.

The complaint centers around the way eSlate handles a particular straight-party voting situation: Sometimes, after marking "straight party," voters who favor a certain candidate then go down to that candidate's name and mark it again, to "emphasize" their vote, as TDP Chairman Boyd Richie put it. However, doing so on an eSlate machine causes the candidate to be deselected, or cancels out that selection and records no vote in that race. Richie charges that this violates laws requiring that election systems must reflect the intent of the voter and that all election systems must count votes the same way – while "emphasizing" a candidate by marking his or her name on a write-in ballot would get counted, such votes cast on an eSlate would not.

The suit actually targets Secretary of State Roger Williams, who is responsible for certifying election systems for use in Texas.

"As the state's chief election officer, Roger Williams is responsible for upholding the integrity of our electoral process," Richie said Tuesday. "However, by certifying voting systems that actually ignore voters' choices, the secretary of state has failed to perform the most basic function of his office – ensuring the fairness and accuracy of our elections. I call on Secretary Williams to restore the rights of Texas voters by reprogramming the eSlate machines to accurately record voters' choices or discontinuing their use altogether."

TDP attorneys Chad Dunn and Buck Wood said the situation was discovered during a recount of a judicial race in Madison County, where they discovered what appeared to be an inordinately high number of races marked "no selection" on a sample of ballots that also had straight-party votes selected.

Secretary of State Office spokesman Scott Haywood said that Williams had not had time to review the suit but believes that "eSlate operates in accordance with Texas law." At the end of voting, Haywood said, voters are presented with a summary screen that lets them review whether their choices have been accurately recorded. But Wood charged that voting patterns indicate that this summary, as well as a warning given to voters before voting, are not enough to prevent "less sophisticated" and elderly voters from making the mistake.

Asked to comment on the suit, Hart InterCivic spokesman Josh Allen replied, "Hart is not a party to the lawsuit. The eSlate fully complies with federal and state election laws. It's certified with federal and state bodies, and it securely, accurately, and privately records votes. Hart will continue to ensure that the eSlate and all of its voting products meet the regulatory requirements that are designed to ensure the sanctity of each voter's ballot, even as those regulatory requirements change, in order to increase security and accuracy or for new regulations as regulatory bodies see fit."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

electronic voting, Hart InterCivic, eSlate, Roger Williams, Boyd Richie, Texas Democratic Pary, Election

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