Texas voters report machines altering votes

Texas voters have reported voting machines altering their selections, a malfunction that Fort Bend County administrator John Oldham said is a user-induced problem. By MJ Routh | Multimedia Journalist

By Will Weissert | Associated Press

With the arrival of Election Day, many voters across the country were on edge about the possible outcomes. Tensions regarding this year’s U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke have been especially high. Polling numbers of the two candidates were close, making the news that reports of changing votes have surfaced from several districts of the Lone Star State even more intense.

“The Hart eSlate machines are not malfunctioning, the problems being reported are a result of user error — usually voters hitting a button or using the selection wheel before the screen is finished rendering,” Sam Taylor, spokesman for the office of Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, told the Associated Press.

The machines are used in around 80 counties, including the state’s largest, Harris, which is home to Houston, as well as Travis, which includes Austin, and Tarrant, encompassing Fort Worth, the Associated Press reported.

Many Hart eSlate machines used in Texas don’t provide receipts or other forms of paper trail to voters, but those casting ballots do see a screen that shows their choices before final submission — and can go back and make changes. Similar machines are used in parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia, according to Verified Voting, a nonprofit group focused on ensuring the accuracy of elections.

The machine’s manufacturer, Hart InterCivic, attributed the Texas issues to 16-year-old technology.

“The same story has happened in multiple elections,” Steven Sockwell, the company’s vice president of marketing, told the Associated Press. “There was no flipping then and there’s not any now.”

In a statement to supporters, Cruz cited “multiple reports” of race selections changing and added “once you select the Republican party ticket, please be patient and do not select ‘next’ until the ballot has populated all of the selections.”

John Oldham, an election administrator in Fort Bend County, told ABC 13 that this is not the first time complaints have been received regarding altered votes in the county, though he does not think the malfunction stems from external sources.

“We’ve heard from voters over a number of elections about this,” Oldham said. “It’s not a glitch, it’s a user-induced problem that comes from the type of system that we have.”

Dr. Pat Flavin, associate professor of political science, provided his expert opinion on the voting machine mishaps, agreeing with Oldham.

“All things point to those problems being voter error. People were voting the straight party option and clicking through, which didn’t give the computer enough time to catch up. It’s unlikely that the voting machines will affect the election, since it only happens to a tiny fraction of voters,” Flavin said.

Oldham also told ABC 13 that he suspects both parties could feel the effects of the errors.

“I think both sides could be equally hurt,” he said.

The voting process has been disrupted by this specific problem for single-party voters of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

When asked about his views on the situation, Waco freshman Malachi Key expressed his opinion that the election process should not be greatly impacted, but voters should be cognizant of their submissions.

“I think that it might affect the election, but only to a minimal amount. There’s only been a small number of reports about machines malfunctioning, and it’s been a known issue with this type of machine since 2016, so hopefully people will pay attention to the summary at the end of voting and election officials will be helpful and informative to voters,” Key said.

*Raegan Turner, Lariat Staff Writer, contributed to this report.