The Dastardly eSlate

Really, the voting machines won't change your vote to Bush / Cheney. Honest.

By now, you've surely heard the story: Those evil electronic voting machines we use here in Travis Co. are programmed to change your vote from John Kerry to George W. Bush. If you haven't yet received the e-mail about this nefarious plot, then you must not have an Internet hookup. Problem is, it's apparently not true.

Beginning last Thursday, an e-mail began circulating in Austin and beyond stating that, "Yesterday a friend voted early at a polling location in Austin. She voted straight Democratic. When she did the final check, lo and behold every vote was for the Democratic candidates except that it showed that she had voted for Bush/Cheney for president/vice-pres." The e-mail goes on to say, "She immediately got a poll official. On her vote, it was corrected." Another variation received by the Chronicle claimed that "it seems the machines are set-up to default to Bush/Cheney."

Travis Co. election officials were quick to respond. On Friday, they said they repeatedly tested their Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machines, but were unable to replicate the problem. They finally concluded that some votes had indeed been switched, but not by the machines – it was the voters themselves who were doing it, albeit inadvertently.

Gail Fisher, manager of the county's elections division, theorizes that after selecting their straight Democratic Party vote, some voters are going to the next page on the electronic ballot and pressing "enter," perhaps thinking they are pressing "cast ballot" or "next page." Since the Bush/Cheney ticket is the first thing on the page, it is highlighted when the page comes up – and thus, pressing "enter" at that point causes the Kerry/Edwards vote to be changed to Bush/Cheney. Ironically, if someone casting a straight Republican ballot made the same mistake, they would de-select Bush/Cheney, causing them to not cast a vote for president at all.

Before casting a ballot, the machine takes voters to a page where voters can review and confirm their choices, which is where the switched votes were caught and corrected. Fisher stressed very strongly that voters should not rush, but carefully and thoroughly examine their ballots on the final review page before pressing "cast ballot." (Straight-party voters should also make sure, at this point, that they've cast a vote in the Capital Metro commuter-rail referendum, which is of course a nonpartisan contest.)

On Monday, Fisher said the county had received 16 complaints from among the record-breaking 115,312 voters who had cast early ballots (and another 6,143 had voted by mail). Travis Co. Democratic Party Executive Director Elizabeth Yevich said on Friday that the party had expressed concern to the county, and county officials had been "receptive and responsive."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, John Edwards, electronic voting, Hart InterCivic eSlate, Gail Fisher, Travis County, Travis County Democratic Party, Elizabeth Yevich

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