Texas voting machine errors and draconian voter registration laws combine to spur voter disenfranchisement in the state
Texas Democratic voters are complaining that their votes for a straight party ticket are being switched in some counties to a vote for Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Some Republican voters are also reporting that their ballot selections for Ted Cruz are switching over to Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke. Texas election officials are saying that they have “no legal authority” to address the issue of voting machines switching votes in 30% of its counties.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Sam Taylor, communications director for the Texas Secretary of state, told the newspaper, “The problem occurs on the Hart eSlate voting machine when voters turn a selection dial and hit the ‘enter’ button simultaneously.” However, this problem is a known issue, one dating back to the 2016 election. The Hart machines are used in about one-third of Texas counties, which makes this a serious issue affecting voters across the state.
But Texas voting officials are framing this issue as one of “voter error” as opposed to issues with the machines. The office of the Secretary of State is saying that the cause of the issue is “voters hitting a button or using the selection wheel before the screen is finished rendering.” Hart eSlate says that their machines are in compliance with Texas law, telling the Houston Chronicle that the machines “ simply records the voter’s inputs. It does not, and cannot, ‘flip’ or ‘switch’ votes.”
Hart eSlate also told the Chronicle, “Most importantly, the eSlate displays all voter choices on a ballot summary page, once the voter has made all selections… This gives the voter the opportunity to verify that they have marked the intended choices before casting the ballot. If the voter has mismarked a choice or has changed their mind, they have the option of returning to any contest that needs to be changed.”
Communications director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, Zenen Perez, says that his organization has received about a dozen reports from voters alleging that their votes have been changed. Texas has been using these machines for over two decades. Perez told GQ, “Texas just hasn’t spent the resources necessary to modernize its elections… Until they do, we’re going to continue to see this kind of thing on a regular basis.”
In addition to these issues, the State of Texas is not in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which establishes that state motor departments have to take steps to provide voter registration to its citizens. The Republican Attorney General’s office has appealed a decision forcing the state to comply.
Adding to these issues is the fact that Texas requires voting volunteers to become deputized in the county where the voters they are seeking to register live. If you do not become a deputized volunteer, you are subject to criminal prosecution.
According to Perez, Texas is the only state in the country to criminalize the practice of deputizing voters. If a voting volunteer is deputized in a county, traveling to another county makes the volunteer subject to criminal prosecution. Each one of Texas’s 254 counties runs its own deputization program, some of them require mandatory training or tests that are only given during business hours. Perez told GQ, “It has a chilling effect over the entire state’s voter registration process and is a big deterrent to national groups that want to come in and help get people registered to vote.”