Worries About Electronic Voting Machines

County clerk says voting machines did not malfunction, no votes lost

Did electronic voting machines fail to properly record votes at the Highland Mall early voting location? Travis County resident Jan Dawes sent an e-mail to the Chronicle worrying that they did, but Travis County Clerk (and elections administrator) Dana DeBeauvoir says no, the machines worked as they should have, and all votes properly cast were recorded.

“When I finished making my selections, I hit the ‘cast ballot’ button, saw the waving flag (which is supposed to mean you're done); then I noticed, at the top of the screen, the words ‘reconnect to system to record vote,’” wrote Dawes. “I beckoned a worker who was clearly puzzled and called another man over. They summoned the ‘tech guy’ saying, ‘We're lucky he's here.’ The tech guy told them to check the record, which showed me as ‘signed and canceled,’ then investigated further and said the last 4 machines were not hooked up properly, so he'd need to re-boot all 11 of them. They were very apologetic, brought me a chair to sit in, and thanked me for my patience. It didn't take long till they were ready, and I voted again. That time it worked. They all said they were glad I noticed there was a problem.”

She had other worries: “They mentioned that some people have made their selections, then left, and the workers noticed later that the voters had failed to hit ‘cast ballot,’ so there was nothing they could do but invalidate them. Hmmm. Another thing I wonder about is how long those 4 machines were disconnected and if others had voted there and not noticed a problem.”

This caused the Texas Civil Rights Project to spring into action. In a statement, TCRP wrote, “The recent malfunctioning electronic voting machines at Highland Mall are further examples of why Travis County and Texas needs to provide a paper trail for voters and not rely solely on the accuracy of electronic voting machines.” TCRP filed a suit in 2006 seeking to enjoin Travis County from using the machines.

“Paperless electronic voting machines have malfunctioned so much and have developed such severe reliability problems around the country that 30 States now prohibit their use without a paper ballot or paper receipt,” wrote TCRP Director Jim Harrington. “Texas needs to get on board as well. We need to protect the integrity and accuracy of people’s votes. Sometimes, as we have seen in recent years, elections turn on a few votes – every vote counts.

“There is no telling how many people – maybe hundreds – thought they had voted but really didn’t have their vote counted,” says Harrington, “which is exactly the problem with paperless machines. We get receipts with our credit cards, our ATM cards, and so on – so, why not with voting, which is a hundred times more important.”

Whoa, slow down, says DeBeauvoir, who approved the purchase and implementation of the Hart Intercivic eSlate electronic voting machines earlier this decade. Her own statement:

“Please let me offer complete information about an event that occurred at the Early Voting location at Highland Mall on Saturday, February 23.

After casting her ballot, a voter saw an instruction message appear on the screen of the voting machine she was using. Upon examination by the election workers, it was discovered that a screw in the cable connection to the voting device had become loosened. The machine is designed to be disconnected and reconnected throughout the day whenever curbside voting for the disabled is necessary.

Since the vote is stored independently at the voting booth, the voter’s original ballot was never in danger of being lost. However, to make sure the voter felt confident about her ballot being cast, the judge cancelled her original access code and allowed the voter to recast her ballot.

A thorough inspection of the equipment was done and a manual audit was performed to ensure that the number of ballots cast on the system matched the number of signatures on the sign up sheet. Every vote was accounted for. We congratulate the voter and the election workers for keeping a close eye on the business of voting.

We understand that people are concerned about the integrity of the voting system. However, this is a situation where the system performed as it was designed.”

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Electronic Voting, Jan Dawes, Dana DeBeauvoir, Texas Civil Rights Project, Jim Harrington, Hart InterCivic, eSlate

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