Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tarrant County: one of the worst places to vote in America

A recent Mother Jones article lists the eleven worst places to vote in America. Guess which Texas county is number two on the list? Tarrant County! (Travis County also made number six, and Waller County number nine, tying Texas with Ohio as the worst state in which to vote.)

All of this was brought to our attention by Roger Williams, Texas Secretary of State. In his FWST letter to the editor, Mr. Williams makes the following argument:

Contrary to the perception conveyed in the Mother Jones article, technology was not responsible for the errors in the Tarrant County primary elections -- indeed, it was crucial in identifying them. As the article mentions, "Initial results in Fort Worth, Texas, showed 150,000 votes being tabulated in a county where only about 50,000 people voted." The error was caught and was corrected the next day. Tarrant County officials have been working tirelessly to ensure that a similar human error does not occur in November.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) created a great deal of change in elections in Texas and specifically for the counties conducting them. The lesson learned in Texas is that new systems require new training. But to suggest that Texas, or the nation, should abandon electronic voting because of minor human errors defies common sense.

Mr. Williams' defense raises more questions than it answers. First, only in Halliburton's accounting department would overstating the numbers by a factor of 300% be considered a "minor" error. And if the percentage of the error had been less, would this have simply made the error less likely to be noticed? Should we be comforted by the implication in his argument that the human error occurred because of lack of training on the new system, rather than something more malicious?

The Tarrant County Democratic Party has weighed in on behalf of voters to ensure fair elections this fall.

The Tarrant County Democratic Chair, Art Brender, announced that the Tarrant County Democratic Party has asked the Secretary of State, Roger Williams, to overrule the decision by a Deputy Secretary of State which refused to approve Voter Verifiable Paper Audit system that was to be retrofit into the Hart InterCivic Voting System 6.1. That system, without the paper audit trail was used by Tarrant County voters in the Republican and Democratic Primaries this past spring. The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit ("VVPA") consists of a continuous paper roll contained in a sealed plastic container which fits into the E-Slate electronic voting computer. The device prints a paper copy of the voter's summary ballot before the voter casts his or her ballot on the E-Slate. The voter can then compare the printed ballot with the electronic ballot displayed on the computer screen before voting. Once the voter pushes the "vote" button, the paper ballot scrolls forward displaying a blank page to the next voter.

"Programming errors which necessitated a 36-hour recount of all votes cast on lection Day in the 2002 General Election and programming errors that occurred in the Democratic and Republican Primaries this past spring have created considerable distrust among Tarrant County voters of any type of electronic voting system that does not have a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit. The scanners that are used on Election Day have such an audit trail -- the ballot itself which is marked by the voter. Those Tarrant County voters who vote early, or who use the E-Slate on Election Day have no such assurances without this verifiable paper audit trail. The Hart system, including the VVPA, has been approved and past all of the federal standards. There is no reason for the State of Texas to deny the use of this Voter Verifiable Paper Audit which is in use in California, Colorado, Ohio and many other states."

Brender said he was only informed about this matter last week and there is still time to retrofit the Tarrant County machines if the Secretary of State will move promptly to overrule the decision of the Deputy Secretary of State.....

Doesn't everyone stand to gain if elections are free and fair? The real question is why this is a partisan issue at all.


Ted McLaughlin said...

It's a partisan issue because the Republicans know they cannot win in the current enviornment without cheating.

After the Tarrant County primary election fiasco, how can any Tarrant voter trust the current system?

Unknown said...

I agree, the recent spate of problems has many voters doubting the legitimacy of their vote. But I think that includes Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Electronic voting has the potential for chaos in the coming election.

As to party bureaucrats, while gerrymandering has been a bipartisan tool for years, a reading of the Mother Jones article reveals just how creative Republicans can be in finding ways to keep Democratic votes from counting. Voter suppression is a tactic at which Republicans excel.

"....In the same [Ohio] county, a group of out-of-state Republicans known as the Mighty Texas Strike Force made phone calls from a hotel warning ex-prisoners that they could be returned to the slammer if they dared to vote, and reportedly telling other voters that their polling places had changed. Congressional investigators later discovered that the Ohio Republican Party had paid the Strike Force's hotel bills."

Why do we tolerate this?