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Texas Warns Voters That Some Voting Machines May Switch Their Ballots If They Try To Vote A Straight-Party Ticket

Some parts of Texas still use older, paperless machines. A handful of voters say picking a straight-party option selects the wrong party.

Posted on October 27, 2018, at 4:06 p.m. ET

Drew Anthony Smith / Getty Images

The state of Texas is warning voters that choosing the straight-party option on some of its voting machines can cause the machine to cast a ballot for members of the opposite party.

Fewer than 20 early voters have reported experiencing the problem so far, Secretary of State Rolando Pablos’s office said. Users are encouraged to double-check their selections before submitting their vote, or to forgo the straight-party option entirely and simply pick each candidate individually.

The glitch happens when machines, the Hart Intercivic eSlates, receive selection inputs while they’re still loading the full ballot. This is the last general election in which Texas will allow straight-party voting.

The eSlate, which Texas last certified in 2009, is in use in 82 of the state’s 254 counties. The eSlate comes in two models, one of which creates a paper receipt. Texas uses the one that doesn’t.

“This kind of thing happens every election. We’ll see more of it; with some systems vote-flipping gets worse as machines age,” said Lawrence Norden, a voting machine expert at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“To me it’s further confirmation that paperless systems need to be replaced. We can’t go back and figure out what these voters intended to do,” Norden said.

In the 2016 election, that paperless version of the eSlate was used in some counties in five other states: Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. Voting experts and the Department of Homeland Security insist that only voting machines that create an auditable paper trail should be in use to create a fully verifiable election.

States vary widely in how seriously they take that concern. In March, Congress authorized $380 million for voting machine upgrades across the country. While experts said that that amount was about the minimum cost to replace all paperless machines in the handful of states that still use them, the funds were divvied out by an Election Assistance Commission formula, giving each state some money and making full replacement impossible.

Virginia has since eliminated all paperless machines. Pennsylvania has committed to doing so in time for the 2020 presidential election. Tennessee has said that without enough federal funding to replace all machines in the state, it doesn’t plan to upgrade.

Last year, Hart sued to try to stop Texas from using a competitor’s machines, which produce a paper ballot.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.