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Another item for the electronic voting critics

This is not encouraging.

Tom Green County Republican Party Chairman Dennis McKerley suspended the recount of the County Court-at-Law No. 2 race about 1:30 p.m. after seeking advice from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which suggested shutting down the recount until what appear to be problems with electronic voting machines could be fixed.

“When a couple numbers didn’t come out right, we tried the double-checks and kept checking,” said McKerley, who as GOP chairman is running the recount. ‘’We’re having trouble with the electronic equipment.’’

About 3,000 early votes and 9,500 total votes were cast in the Republican primary race, which featured incumbent Judge Penny Roberts and two challengers – Assistant County Attorney Julie Hughes and former prosecutor Dan Edwards.

Initial election results, certified by the county Saturday, showed Edwards finishing 12 votes behind Roberts for second place and the right to face Hughes in the April 11 runoff election.

The problem in the recount appears to be with new, federally mandated electronic voting machines, provided by vendor Hart InterCivic. During a hand recount, the machines are designed to print out paper ballots for each voter’s choices, but Mc-Kerley said the machines that were used to register early votes printed out only 75 percent to 80 percent of the votes believed to have been cast.

A Hart InterCivic representative is expected to arrive this morning, McKerley said, to determine whether or how to retrieve the remaining printouts.

Well, at least it’s nice to know that the danged things have the capability of printing a ballot. I still say the right answer is to print one out immediately after the voter has hit the “cast ballot” button. If nothing else, at least you’ll know right away when you’ve got a problem.

If the Hart InterCivic representative cannot print out the ballots elections workers believe should be there – or if they simply aren’t there at all – the Republican Party will have no choice but to certify the ballots in hand, McKerley said.

That likely would give any of the three candidates cause to contest the result in state district court, where he or she can ask a judge to throw out the results and call for a new election.

”If all we can count are 8,100 ballots, that becomes the official count for the election,” Edwards said. ”That bothers me if 1,500 people have been disenfranchised.”

Good luck to the judge who gets this sucker in his or her docket. I wonder if Steven Smith will add this to his list of complaints from that primary as well.

Thanks again to Capitol Annex for the catch.

UPDATE: Sonia rounds up news reports of other e-voting problems in Texas.

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  1. Julie Keller says:

    Regarding the paper “ballots” these things print out. I don’t know what type of verification the Tom Green County machines use, but I worked as an election clerk in El Paso County, where we use Diebold touchscreens. On the side of the machine is a locked door that the election judge opens and inside is a roll of tape, like adding machine tape. First thing, when setting up the machines and turning them on, the election judge is to run a “zero report”. The roll of adding machine tape prints a list of all the candidates on the ballot that election with their total votes. At 6:45 a.m., before the polls open, those totals for all candidates in all races should be zero, because no one’s voted yet. If any numbers show up on the zero report besides zero, the clerk is supposed to take the machine out of service and notify the elections department. All zero reports are reviewed and signed by all the election clerks working the precinct and turned in to the elections dept at the end of the day along with other items and paperwork required by law.

    During the day, as people vote, each vote for each candidate, I think, is remembered by the machine as a running total, not a list of individual votes cast. I do not know all the ins and outs of it, but the machines have the capability of producing a summary report and a “long report.” We were cautioned repeatedly not to run the “long report” at the end of the day, as this took a considerable amount of time to produce and would slow down the final counting.

    At the end of the day, the elections clerks at the precincts do not run any more reports, we just turned off the machines and removed the disc that contained the data from each machine and turned the discs in to the county elections dept. for vote tallying.

    While I do not know what the “long report” option produces, I know what the summary option produces: something similar to the zero report — an adding machine tape that shows the grand total, by candidate, of votes cast at that machine. I don’t think it can reproduce entire ballots by voter.

    But I agree with you: if it produces any paper at all, which it does, it should be able to give the voter a “receipt” verifying their votes cast. A duplicate “receipt”, by voter, should be maintained on the machine disc. I don’t think this is rocket science.

    What I find far more troublesome is the inclusion of wireless data transfer (IRDA) ports in the newer models of Diebolds.

  2. Mathwiz says:

    Well, at least it’s nice to know that the danged things have the capability of printing a ballot. I still say the right answer is to print one out immediately after the voter has hit the “cast ballot” button. If nothing else, at least you’ll know right away when you’ve got a problem.

    Of course, printing a “ballot” solely for recount purposes is pointless. Unless the voter sees the printed ballot when she votes, a printed “ballot” provides no guarantee her vote wasn’t hacked – and hand-counting printed ballots just introduces another possible source of error. Hacking worries aside, machines are better than people at counting things.

    In fact, hacking worries aside it’s rather surprising that these machines have so many problems. The task is so simple, a Commodore 64 should be able to handle it!

    I suspect part of the problem is unnecessary complexity. Modern machines are so much faster and more powerful than the aforementioned Commodore 64, the temptation is to use complex operating systems like Windows CE, with its gazillion bells and whistles that make modern computers so much easier to use, but which are utterly irrelevant to the far simpler task of recording votes, and just add a bunch more things to go wrong.

  3. Prove Our Democracy with Paper Ballots says:

    Paper Ballots are proof…accountable. Any other system is a re-directing method developed to prevent the more open, therefore honest counting of ballots by hand.


    …paper ballots—the oldest technology—show the best performance.” This is the finding of two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) political science professors, Dr. Stephen Ansolabehere and Dr. Charles Stewart III, in a September 25, 2002 study entitled, Voting Technology and Uncounted Votes in the United States.

    The issue at hand is this – your right to vote belongs to you. There can be no compromise on this point. There can be no doubt. Either you voted or you didn’t. Either you know your vote was counted or you don’t. Verifying your ballot and auditing the count are not safe substitutes for the real thing – marking and casting your own ballot and then watching each and every vote get counted. Put another way, real voting includes the following three components: 1) direct access to a paper ballot, 2) effective oversight of the voting process, and 3) full enforcement of voting rights.

    Access – A voting machine creates real obstacles for voters to overcome. Both the old fashioned lever machine and today’s touchscreen computers prevent voters from getting direct access to a paper ballot. They prevent voters from marking their own ballots. They constitute a modern day literacy test for voters and election officials alike. Ballot printers will not change that fact. And when machines malfunction, either by accident or design, ballot printers are of no use whatsoever. But, the dangers these voting machines pose are even more insidious. The 2004 presidential election has shown that election officials can suppress voter participation by simply withholding voting machines, thereby creating long lines and frustrated voters.

    Oversight – Some voting rights groups are advocating paper ballots with computerized ballots scanners, but no hand count – just audits. Ballot scanners are also easy to rig. And audits ignore the citizens’ most basic right, that every vote must be counted in full view of poll watchers and the press. Beyond that, audits leave the counting of the ballots under the control of election officials, with little or no public oversight. It is an open door to vote fraud. Some people believe that voting early or by absentee ballot is a viable option. As with audits, voting early or by absentee leaves election officials in control of ballots (whether electronic or paper) for days on end, free to destroy, alter, or replace votes. In the 2004 Afghan elections voters used paper ballots, but election officials did not allow a local hand count. Instead, ballots got carted off to eight central counting facilities. This eliminated local public oversight. Only a public hand-count of paper ballots at your local polling station on Election Day can prevent miscounts and vote fraud.

    Enforcement – Voting machines are easy to rig and impossible to safeguard. The more sophisticated the technology, the larger the impact. Today, two companies, ES&S and Diebold, with strong ties to the Republican Party, electronically count 80% of all votes. Interestingly, both companies were started by two brothers, Bob and Todd Urosevich. The third largest voting machine corporation, Sequoia, is foreign-owned. In addition, there are other companies and individuals who have a piece of the action, including major defense contractors, media organizations, and no less than five ex-CIA directors. Meanwhile, the federal government has taken a hands-off approach to voting security. There are no restrictions on who can count our votes. They can be (and some are) felons and foreigners. Unbelievably, the head of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) election crimes branch since 1970, Craig C. Donsanto, has made it official department policy that no investigator should enter a polling precinct on election day; nor should they begin any serious investigation of the voting process until after the election results are certified. By that time all evidence of vote fraud could easily be destroyed.

    Citizens are asked to have faith and trust in a system devoid of checks and balances. Voting by machine, early, and absentee, constitutes a secret processing of the vote. It introduces confusion and concealment to a process that must be simple and transparent. Direct voter participation and meaningful oversight of elections in America has been effectively eliminated. Our voting process has been privatized and outsourced. Most Americans are unaware of this disturbing reality, thanks to a news media that is, like our voting systems, owned by foreign and domestic corporations. So, it’s up to average citizens and freelance journalists to inform the public.

  4. Mathwiz says:

    By the way, the Right is finally starting to “get it” on e-voting.

    I don’t agree with their judgement (Dubai-owned companies, trustworthy; Venezuelan-owned ones, not trustworthy); but with e-voting, it’s not a matter of who’s trustworthy and who isn’t anyway. No one should be considered trustworthy, as everyone at least potentially has a reason to hack an election.