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Concerns raised over electronic voting (TX)

Libby Cluett   Mineral Wells Index   24 October 2008

At least two Palo Pinto County residents say they experienced early voting problems when the touch-screen voting machines they used kept switching their straight-party vote from Democratic to Republican.

“When I cast an early vote [Wednesday] at Palo Pinto County Courthouse, my vote was switched from Democrat to Republican right in front of my face - twice!” reported Lona Jones, a Precinct 1 county resident.

Intending to vote straight party on the Democratic ticket, Jones said she was surprised Wednesday when the electronic voting machine “on the left as you face the machines” in the courthouse basement asked her if she wanted to cast her vote for a straight Republican ticket.

Thinking she had pushed the wrong button the first time the machine “came up Republican,” Jones said she repeated her intended straight-party vote.

“The second time I was sure to just touch the Democratic button,” she said, further reporting that the machine responded to her ion, “‘Do you want to change your Republican straight ticket vote to a Democratic vote?’ I pressed, ‘Yes,’ then it came back up and it was a total Republican ticket again.”

One election judge helped her cancel her vote and switch her to the machine on the right side, where she was able to cast her vote as she intended.

“One of the ladies told me, ‘These machines don’t work well’ and, ‘These machines give us problems.’ I told her I not only didn’t want to use that machine, [indicating the problematic first machine], I didn’t want anyone using that machine.”

When Jones returned home, she made calls – first to County Clerk Bobbie Smith who was out of the office conducting early voting in Mineral Wells – then to other elected officials.

Later Wednesday, Jones looked online to see if this problem showed up elsewhere. She found an Internet article from the Charleston Gazette in Charleston, W.Va., citing voting irregularities similar to her experience with the same type of machine used in Palo Pinto County – an Election Systems & Software’s iVotronic.

In the article titled “Some early W.Va. voters angry over switched votes,” the Gazette reported at least three West Virginia voters complained that touch-screen machines in one county clerk's office kept switching their votes from Democratic to Republican candidates.

On Thursday, the Gazette reported that despite the problems in her state, West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland, who ed the Omaha, Neb.-based ES&S machines, issued a response that she has confidence “the machines will provide West Virginia with a fair, accurate and clean election.”

“My understanding in each [West Virginia] situation, poll workers were notified and they were not able to recreate the situation that the voters described,” ES&S spokesperson Ken Fields told the Mineral Wells Index by phone Thursday.

“In each case, when they notified a poll worker, the poll worker was able to help voters and ultimately cast their vote,” he added.

“Every voter is required to review their ion. Voters have to review and confirm that the machine is highlighting the ion they intended,” he added, calling the machine’s ballot review process, “an important element and one more assurance that every voter can have.”

“There was no indication there was any problem with the machines,” Fields concluded about the West Virginia machines. He further pointed out that the iVotronic machines have a paper backup and said each machine is “rigorously tested by independent testing experts” before leaving the company and calibrated and tested before each election.

Jones said she spoke with Smith about the problems with the machine she used at the Palo Pinto County Courthouse.

“Bobbie was upset at the situation when she called back,” said Jones. “She told me, ‘We had all kinds of trouble the last time we used these machines.’ She said she would call the vendor right away and they will come fix it.”

“I said, ‘You need to stop using that machine right now,’” Jones added.

In the meantime, Teresa Crosier, an alternate election judge and office manager of the Palo Pinto County Democratic Headquarters, called Jones to remind her to vote early.

“She told me she had already voted and had problems,” said Crosier. “She told me her story and I told her I had the same problem Wednesday morning.”

Like Jones, Crosier tried to cast a straight party Democratic vote at the courthouse annex, “and it came up straight party, Republican party.”

Crosier recognized her election trainer, who was helping to monitor the polls, and called him over. “We went back through the process and it did it again,” she said of the third time the touch-screen machine suggested she vote Republican.

“The thing I was afraid of is that someone who is in a hurry and not paying attention might press the ‘vote’ button and it would be Republican rather than Democrat,” she added.

She said she later spoke to Smith, who suggested this was “just a mistake on my part” and said it happens with “people who didn’t know what they are doing and are not paying attention.”

When asked on Thursday, Smith told the Index they checked out the courthouse machine in question with three voters and “they had no problem; the machines didn’t change parties.” However she said she was unsure if any of the three voters ed straight party.

Smith said she called ES&S and will follow up with them. Smith said they prepare the electronic machines, based on state requirements, by running them through all the ballot variables. “Each machine has a tape with the numbers of votes cast,” Smith noted, adding, “It’s going to count whatever is pushed.”

“The most important thing is to review your full ticket – all of your votes – before pushing that red button,” Jones warns.

“We would like people to check your ballot,” said Smith. “You can go back and correct any checkmarks [on the ballot]. If anything is awry, get the judge involved.”

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