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The Early-Voting Report: Election 2004
Austin Chronicle. October 22, 2004. BY LEE NICHOLS

Early voting started Monday in Texas, and Travis Co. clerk Dana DeBeauvoir excitedly announced that she expected record turnout in this election. (As of Wednesday morning, more than 6% of Travis Co. voters had already cast their ballots.) She also sheepishly announced something that will likely send voting fraud activists into a tizzy: "We have had an empty ballot box stolen."

"Ballot box" is actually rather outdated terminology ? the device is the electronic terminal into which votes at a particular polling place are stored in the county's electronic eSlate voting system. DeBeauvoir said the terminal was locked in the trunk of an election official's car on Sunday night, and overnight, the car was stolen. DeBeauvoir did not believe election fraud was a motive: "We believe that the kids who stole the car probably don't even have any idea it's back there [and] don't know what it is." (She later admitted that she didn't know if the thieves were actually juveniles.)

She also took the opportunity to pre-empt the inevitable outrage of critics of electronic voting by calling this a "no-risk" situation and saying, "Thank goodness this is not a paper ballot election, because having paper ballots stolen is far more of a vulnerability ..." Instead of having official ballots floating out in the public, possibly to be smuggled back into a polling place later, DeBeauvoir said she can simply invalidate the missing box within Travis County's system. If the box were to show up later with votes loaded into it, the county's system would refuse to accept them, she said.

Asked what might happen if the box had been stolen after votes had been cast, DeBeauvoir replied that that would be almost impossible ? once votes have been cast, the boxes are handled by law enforcement officials only.


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