Voting glitches hurt Texas, Georgia

Voting glitches hurt Texas, Georgia
© Greg Nash

Texas and Georgia struggled the most with glitchy electronic voting machines on Election Day, according to an analysis by watchdog Verified Voting. 

Some machines simply wouldn’t boot up, and others unexpectedly shut down. Faulty touch screens were another issue — some registered a vote for the wrong candidate, while others just went blank.

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Pamela Smith, the group's president, said poor machine management and outdated equipment is likely responsible for the malfunctions, which were seen nationwide.

U.S. electronic voting machines are rapidly aging. Just over a decade ago, an influx of federal funds allowed many states to buy up electronic voting machines. Since then, budgets have dried up and more than half of those states have taken steps back toward paper ballots as electronic fallibilities increase. 

Given those trends, glitches are expected, Smith said. Verified Voting helps run call centers around the country on Election Day, fielding reports of voting difficulties. 

“Some of the problems that we saw in the early voting period, we also saw on Election Day,” Smith said. “Most of the issues we heard about were not enough equipment or equipment breaking down.”

The highest percentage of complaints came from precincts that have eschewed even paper-backed electronic voting — like all of Georgia and some districts in Texas, Smith said.

Georgia uses electronic voting machines statewide with no paper trail. Verified Voting received reports of machines taking hours to boot up in the morning, and “in one case the voter attempted to use the machine but her voter card was ejected immediately and the screen said ‘invalid,’” Smith said. 

Poll workers initially turned the voter away, assuming she had already voted. Later, the voter was allowed to return and cast a provisional paper ballot.

The group was told about similar issues in districts across Texas.

Across Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina, the election watchdog group also heard about instances of “vote-flipping,” where the touchscreen buttons or physical push-buttons record a vote for an unintended candidate. Nothing the group hasn’t seen before, Smith said. The machines in the Carolinas are roughly a decade old.

Earlier this year, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration sounded the alarm on deteriorating electronic voting machines, calling it an “impending crisis.” But House Republicans insist the issue is one for the states. 

With no additional federal funds likely, voting researchers and computer scientists have encouraged states to require a paper trail for all electronic machines. 

On Election Day, nearly 70 percent of people cast their ballot by hand. In some precincts, voters are even asking for it.

In St. Louis, “they said more people asked for paper ballots at the polling place than ever in the past,” Smith said.