Texas voters experiencing issues with voting machines used in that state have been told by election officials that they are the problem, not the machines. The state says voters are inadvertently touching the machines in ways they shouldn’t, causing the machines to alter or delete their vote in the hotly contested senate race between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. But Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University in Houston who has examined the systems extensively in the past, told Motherboard in a phone interview that the problem is a common type of software bug that the maker of the equipment could have fixed a decade ago and didn’t, despite previous voter complaints. What’s more, he says the same systems have much more serious security problems that the manufacturer has failed to fix that make them susceptible to hacking. The problem involves eSlate voting machines made by Hart InterCivic—direct-recording electronic machines that use a dial and button for voters to make their selections. Voters turn the dial in the lower right corner of the machine to scroll through each race and page of a digital ballot, and press the “enter” button, located just left of the dial, to make their selections.
The issue in the senate race has occurred when voters chose the option to vote a straight-party ticket—that is, to vote for only candidates from a specified party. Depending on whether the voter indicates they want to vote Democrat or Republican, the machine will automatically populate all races with candidates in the chosen party. But the multiple-page ballot can take several seconds to complete—in Houston the ballot runs 16 pages long. The Secretary of State and county election officials have blamed the issue on voters touching the machines while the systems are still rendering the ballot on screen—thereby inadvertently de-selecting their vote in the critical senate race. They say voters who touch the “enter” button while the system is still filling out the ballot can cause the machine to de-select their chosen candidate or change the vote to the other candidate in the race. Only between 15 and 20 voters—both registered Republicans and Democrats—have reported problems so far to the secretary of state’s office, though more may have experienced it without noticing, if they failed to review their ballots before casting them.
The issue is occurring primarily with the US Senate race because that’s the first race at the top of the ballot, Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state told theTexas Tribune. The first screen voters see on the machines asks if they want to vote a straight-party ballot, and if they indicate they do, the next screen that appears is the first page of the multi-page ballot, already filled in by the machine with votes for candidates in the party they chose.