Early e-voting results in vote flipping in three states so far

Voters in West Virginia, Tennessee and Texas all report problems with ES&S voting machines.

By Cyrus Farivar
Published October 27, 2008 10:00AM (EDT)

I noted in passing last week that West Virginia has had the distinct honor of being the first state in the union to report problems (surprise! surprise!) with its electronic voting systems. There are now also reports that similar problems have been happening in Tennessee and Texas as well. No doubt these won't be the last.

So what exactly has happened? Largely, the problem has been what's been dubbed "vote flipping" or "vote switching" -- which is exactly what it sounds like. According to a report by my buddy Scott Finn over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting from late last week:

Voters in at least two West Virginia counties -- Jackson and Putnam -- say electronic voting machines are switching their votes from Democrats to Republicans.

The two county clerks, both Republicans, say they don't think there's a problem. But these voting problems have gotten the attention of everyone from CNN to liberal website The Huffington Post.

So far, eight voters from Jackson and Putnam counties have come forward to say their electronic voting machines kept changing their votes from Democrats to Republicans -- usually, from Obama to McCain.

Wired News also reports that Ohio and Berkeley counties have been having similar problems.

It appears that some of the problems have to do with the fact that the software is simply faulty, and requires "recalibration" by voting officials.

But in Tennessee, there's a different, albeit opposite problem, where votes intended for McCain are actually going to Obama. (One blog has raised questions as to the veracity of this report.) Further, apparently it's not always obvious to tell exactly what part of the screen you're touching.

According to an account in the Decatur County Chronicle:

"The way the machine is set up, when you are standing in front of it and seeing it at a certain angle, it looks like you are touching the middle (of the button) when you are actually touching the line above it," Box said.

[Election Commissioner Rick Box] and fellow Election Commissioner Grafton Dodd tested the machines on Monday. Dodd could not be reached for comment but Box said he found the area of the screen where the buttons for President are located are extremely close together. He blames the problem in part on poor design by software programmers, and adds that there may be sensitivity issues with the screen itself.

In other words, it's the voter's fault.

In a related problem, Democracy Now's Amy Goodman reported that also in Tennessee, at least two Democratic votes went temporarily straight to Green.

In Tennessee, a filmmaker couple also had difficulties casting their vote for the Democratic candidate, the Brad Blog reports. They had to hit the Obama button several times before it actually registered, and in one case it momentarily flipped from Obama to Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. Patricia Earnhardt said, "The McKinney button was located five rows below the Obama button." The couple in Nashville were using machines made by the same company as those in the counties in West Virginia -- by Election Systems and Software.

Another problem apparently hit Texas late Friday, when a local paper in Mineral Wells, Texas (Palo Pinto County, west of Dallas), noted that there had been two huge vote flips. One woman said that when she tried to vote for a straight-party Democratic vote, the voting machine instead showed that she voted 100 percent Republican.

Reports the Mineral Wells Index:

"When I cast an early vote [Wednesday] at Palo Pinto County Courthouse, my vote was switched from Democrat to Republican right in front of my face - twice!" reported Lona Jones, a Precinct 1 county resident.

Intending to vote straight party on the Democratic ticket, Jones said she was surprised Wednesday when the electronic voting machine "on the left as you face the machines" in the courthouse basement asked her if she wanted to cast her vote for a straight Republican ticket.

Thinking she had pushed the wrong button the first time the machine "came up Republican," Jones said she repeated her intended straight-party vote.

"The second time I was sure to just touch the Democratic button," she said, further reporting that the machine responded to her selection, "'Do you want to change your Republican straight ticket vote to a Democratic vote?' I pressed, 'Yes,' then it came back up and it was a total Republican ticket again."

Eventually she was able to cancel her vote with the help of an elections judge.

West Virginia, Tennessee and Texas use iVotronic machines made by Election Systems & Software. And remember, there's more than just ES&S and those states that we need to worry about -- 45 percent of the electorate (24 states) currently uses electronic voting.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times has called for the complete cessation of the use of electronic voting machines in a Friday morning editorial. I wholeheartedly support this decision.

Now, if you have problems voting during early voting periods or on Nov. 4, there are numerous ways you can document your problems.

There are two major voting hotlines: 1-866-MYVOTE-1, and CNN's 1-877-GO-CNN-08. Others include 1-866-OUR-VOTE and 1-888-VOTE-TIP for fraud reports. Wired News is also encouraging its readers to contribute information for its Google Map mashup.

I'll be continuing to monitor this as early voting continues this week.

Cyrus Farivar

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