Confusing Voters

Below is a letter by Richard Viktorin, a CPA with Audits in the Public Interest, sent to election authorities about a problem with the Hart InterCivic voting machines used in many counties, including Travis County. In the last election, straight ticket voters undervoted for the various propositions, in part due to the problems voters have in actually finding the propositions at the end of the e-voting slate. Austin voters undervoted by about 15% on propositions. This was more pronounced (as much as 22%) in East Side precincts that favored Prop 2. In addition, the City Council’s ballot language for Prop 2 conveniently left out following words: “Domain” and “subsidies”.  In addition, the ballot language made no effort to clarify to voters that voting FOR Prop 2 would stop the Domain subsidies and not the other way around.

And then there’s the problem with the machines for straight ticket voters. After they’ve selected a straight ticket and then select a particular candidate to “emphasize” their vote, this then deselects the candidate!  In House District 105 in Dallas, the outcome of which could have turned the Texas House from Republican to Democratic control, both campaign sides experienced serious problems in their recount, due to this deselection problem.  Ultimately, the challenge was withdrawn in HD 105, likely because with electronic voting there is no way to understand what the voter “intended”, unlike paper ballots where sometimes one can make that determination.  A lawsuit taken by the Texas Democratic Party is on its way to the Supreme Court.  And, a lawsuit continues in Travis County challenging electronic voting machines because it’s impossible to verify a recount without paper ballots.  Here you can read a report of affidavits collected this November at the polls in Travis County by an Austin based voter integrity group, Vote Rescue.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Honorable Sam T. Biscoe, County Judge
Travis County Courthouse
314 W. 11th St., #520
Austin, TX 78701

Gail Fisher, Division Manager
Travis County Elections Division

Subject: Potential eSlate ballot error for straight ticket voters

Judge Biscoe:

As a first matter, I want to tell you about the AAA customer service I received from Michael Winn this morning when I arrived unannounced at the Elections Division offices. I had received word the eSlate machines were not giving straight party voters the opportunity to cast a ballot in the Austin municipal election (Propositions 1 and 2). Being in an auditor/poll watcher role, I told Mr. Winn I would not disclose the possible error until he first gave me a blind demonstration of an eSlate ballot and vote.

There is a human factors defect in the eSlate ballot when voters cast their ballot straight party.

Many straight party voters, precisely because they are voting straight party, immediately cast their ballot after marking their party. When voters press Cast Ballot from the first page of the eSlate ballot, it takes them past the non-partisan portions of the ballot. In these instances for instance, voters are not given the chance to see the Municipal Election, in this case the propositions for Charter Amendment.

Voters do see a ballot summary but here is where we encounter a chad, of sorts. Industrial engineers who design the machine – human interface term this a human factors design error.

Casting a ballot immediately from the straight party selection should not throw the voter past the non-partisan portions of the ballot even considering the ballot summary is designed to serve as final notice to the voter that they did not vote the entire ballot. In this case, making a party selection has the effect of causing the voter to not vote for anything but partisan races. This may not be the voter’s intent.

The eSlate ballot currently operates to hide portions of the ballot.

In a close election, this human factor design defect may be grounds to contest an election. This defect can be corrected by reprogramming the eSlate so that when a voter casts a ballot from the straight party selection it sends the voter to the non-partisan sections of the ballot rather than to the ballot summary/exit.

Sincerely,

Richard Viktorin, CPA, Audits in the Public Interest

Copies: Shirley A. Gentry, Austin City Clerk
Gregg Burt, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hart Intercivic

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