Glitchy paperless voting machines are affecting an untold number of early voting ballots in Texas and Georgia, raising the specter that two of the most closely watched races could be marred by questions about whether the vote count is accurate. Civil rights groups and voters in both states have filed complaints alleging that the ATM-style touchscreen machines inexplicably deleted some people’s votes for Democratic candidates or switched them to Republican votes. The errors — which experts have blamed on outdated software and old machines — would appear to work to the advantage of Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, and that of Georgia GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp over Democrat Stacey Abrams. It’s unclear how many times the errors have happened or whether they could be enough to change the outcome of either race, both of which appear to be tight. But the latest episodes come after at least a decade and a half of warnings from election security groups about the dangers of relying on voting machines that don’t produce a paper trail — saying they’re insecure and produce results that are impossible to audit.
Experts in voting technology say the machines’ errors aren’t the result of mischief by hackers. But the same lack of a paper trail that would make it impossible to verify the voters’ intent in these races would also hamper efforts to detect a cyberattack on the election machinery.
“This machine problem is essentially threatening to call into question the entire election in Texas,” Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Five states — Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Delaware and New Jersey — still rely entirely on paperless voting machines, even as most others have switched to scanned-in paper ballots that resemble an SAT test. Seven states still use the paperless machines partially, including Texas and Pennsylvania.
The issue has provoked particular controversy this year in Georgia, where voting integrity groups filed a suit demanding that the state switch to voting machines that use paper ballots. Their opponent in that suit was Kemp, who as secretary of state is Georgia’s chief election official.