In Texas, word on the street is that ballots are switching. Voters, after selecting an “all-Republican ticket,” have reviewed their ballot when they finished only to find that their presidential selection is not Republican at all, but instead Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Understandably, voters are concerned, and as similar complaints have also been heard in other states—specifically North Carolina and Nevada—voters may begin to wonder if their vote matters.
This election season has been littered with conspiracy, corruption, and conjecture. Both parties are struggling to maintain the trust of their constituents, while trying to portray their opponent as untrustworthy. In a context as rife with suspicion as this election is, every reasonable measure possible should be taken to allay the public’s fears. Regardless of which candidate is elected on November 8, the citizenry should be able to trust the legality and fairness of the outcome.
Lots of Voting Machines Use the Same Software
In keeping with this spirit, Chambers County, Texas quickly responded to voters’ complaints, printed temporary paper ballots, and notified the software company of the error with their Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system. ES&S, the company, immediately responded by sending out a team to replace the faulty software, and voters were able to use the electronic system within 72 hours. However, the need for ES&S’s involvement may not be the most assuring news to voters.
ES&S is a rapidly growing software programing company based in Omaha, Nebraska, with voting machines in 90 percent of the states. They have counted roughly 50 percent of the votes cast in the major elections within the last 10 years. While they are not the only company involved in election voting systems, their software is used extensively and malfunctions that caused the ballot switching in Chambers County are problematic.
This is also not the first time that an ES&S system malfunction was reported to have switched votes, with complaints in the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections. This software has been in use for several previous elections, and still reports errors in its reliability. However, rather than lay all the blame on ES&S software or assuming a conspiracy or an international hacker, NPR suggested a more moderate answer: old equipment.
What States Can Do
A 2015 report by the Brennan Center for Justice noted that many states continued to use voting machines that were more than 10 years old and difficult to replace and repair. While states often recognize the need to replace voting machines, in the short-term constricted budgets require diverting funds to other pressing needs. Yet if the results of an election are in question, in the long run perhaps investing in new technology would be the better choice.
One additional concern with Texas’s early voting equipment is that Texas uses a DRE system, which does not have a paper trail. Five other states’ voting systems—in New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina—are completely paperless. A voter simply selects buttons on a screen.
When using a paperless DRE system, voters electronically submit their votes, and at the end of the day, the machine counts the number of votes each candidate received. The tally is printed on a long receipt detailing the number and spread of the votes. This system, while more advanced and less time-intensive, makes recounting ballots impossible because no original copy of a voter’s ballot is recorded. If the software incorrectly switches a voter’s selection, and the voter misses the mistake when reviewing his ballot, there is no way to go back and prove the error.
The 2016 presidential race is close, too close to call, with a recent ABC-Washington Post poll showing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton just one point apart. Voters need to be assured that when they cast their ballot, either in early voting or on November 8, the candidate they select for president will indeed receive their vote. In one of the most important elections in the country’s history, especially with the frequent allegations of fraud, misconduct, and deceit from both parties, the confidence of the public is critical.