People who try to vote straight party tickets in some parts of Texas, using electronic voting machines, are reportedly seeing their choices in the Senate race messed up—Democrats see the machine preparing to log a vote for Ted Cruz, and Republicans are seeing no Senate vote at all. In response to the alarm over this on Twitter, the Texas Civil Rights Project tweeted out a link to an explanatory message from the Texas Secretary of State.
This is the explanation:
We have heard from a number of people voting on Hart eSlate machines that when they voted straight ticket, it appeared to them that the machine had changed one or more of their selections to a candidate from a different party. This can be caused by the voter taking keyboard actions before a page has fully appeared on the eSlate, thereby de-selecting the pre-filled selection of that party’s candidate.
Specifically, the Hart eSlate system uses a keyboard with an “Enter” button and a selection wheel button. The “Enter” button on a Hart eSlate selects a voter’s choice. The selection wheel button on a Hart eSlate allows the voter to move up and down the ballot. It is important when voting on a Hart eSlate machine for the voter to use one button or the other and not both simultaneously, and for the voter to not hit the “Enter” button or use the selection wheel button until a page is fully rendered.
The votes are not (in this case) being manipulated by nefarious actors. It’s just that the technology that people are using to exercise their right to self-government is so balky and badly designed that it gets their choices wrong. Responsibility for quality control, naturally, gets pushed off onto the voter:
A voter should note the response to the voter’s action on the keyboard prior to taking another keyboard action. It is also important for the voter to verify their selections are correct before casting their ballot. Step-by-step instructions for the use of a Hart e-Slate machine are available on VoteTexas.gov.
Here, in turn, are the step-by-step instructions the State of Texas provides for using the Hart InterCivic eSlate machines:
• [T]he election official will hand you a piece of paper with a four-or five-digit access code.
• Take the access code to the next available voting booth.
• Below the eSlate screen, you will find five buttons (Previous, Next, Enter, Help, and Cast Ballot) and a select wheel. Turn the select wheel to highlight the screen option “English” or “Español” and then press the “Enter” button. Voters with visual or mobility impairments, blindness, or literacy challenges can use the eSlate’s integrated audio ballot reader, two large tactile switches, or a sip and puff attachment to navigate through the ballot.
• Enter your access code into the eSlate machine by rotating the select wheel until the number you wish to enter into a box is highlighted. Press the Enter key and move on to the next number. Once you’ve selected and entered the last digit of the access code, the screen will take you to the first page of balloting.
• In each race, select a candidate or issue for whom you wish to vote by using the select wheel to highlight a name and pressing the Enter button. If you change your mind, use the select wheel to highlight the correct name and press Enter (your previous selection will be de-selected). Touch the “Next” button below the screen to move to the next ballot page.
• When finished, you will be presented with a Ballot Summary Screen showing your selections in each race. If you want to change a selection, use the select wheel to highlight the race or question and press Enter to return to that page to make a new selection. Once the Summary Screen reflects your selections for each race, press the “Cast Ballot” button at the bottom left of the eSlate machine to complete the voting process.
Got that? Note that the instructions as written—“select a candidate…by using the select wheel to highlight a name and pressing the Enter button”—are at best ambiguous about, and at worst completely contrary to, the Secretary of State’s warning that voters must “use one button or the other and not both simultaneously.” Also one document calls the wheel a “select wheel” and the other calls the wheel a “selection wheel button.”
The site also has technical instructions for Texas voters in localities that use old-fashioned, unreformed paper ballots:
• [P]ick up a ballot from the table and proceed to the next available voting booth.
• Read the directions carefully at the top of the ballot, and then mark your selections using the indelible marker or pen (a marker or pen that cannot be erased) provided to you.
• When you’re finished, place the voted ballot in the ballot box