Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"It's not a bug, it's a feature"

Today the Texas Democratic Party filed suit against the secretary of the state of Texas, Roger Williams, claiming voter disenfranchisement. The electronic voting machines used in many Texas counties, called e-Slates, have routinely counted undervotes on straight-ticket ballots -- in effect subtracting a vote -- when a voter would additionally pick a Democratic candidate on their ballot. You can read the announcement here.

I want to separate this paragraph from the press release for some greater examination:

On the eSlate machines, when a voter chooses a straight-ticket vote and then continues to select candidates of the same political party to “emphasize” their vote, the machine actually records the vote for that race as a no vote. This is inconsistent with the tabulation of absentee paper ballots in those counties, as well as electronic voting machines used in other counties across the state. The irregularities relating to the eSlate voting system have affected the outcome at least one race, located in Madison County. However, there are 101 other Texas counties that employed these machines in the 2006 election.

Additionally, the Secretary of State’s office is required to test all voting machines used in Texas elections and knew of the irregularities related to the eSlate machines, which are manufactured by Hart Intercivic. Yet Secretary Williams allowed the machines to be used anyway.

Hart InterCivic was an old-fashioned printer for the state government before they got into the e-voting business. They got into that business shortly after Tom Hicks -- Bush Pioneer and owner of the Texas Rangers, aka the man who made Dubya rich -- invested heavily in the company in 1999.

Here's where things get interesting:

Hart representatives have always claimed that emphasis voting is not a programming error but a standard function of e-Slates. That explanation still puts their machines in violation of Texas election law, which states that votes must be tabulated and recorded "uniformly" throughout the Great State. Hart, though, is not named as a defendant in the litigation; Secretary Williams, as supervisor of elections, must certify the voting mechanisms in Texas. All of them, whether paper ballot or DRE. Thus the heart of the matter, and the basis for the voter disenfranchisement complaint.

The Office of Attorney General will defend Williams in this filing. There'll be more to say here as the case goes forward.

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