Analysis

Election Tech Tuesday: Occasional Voting Machine Errors Persist Despite State Testing

States have the discretion to test voting machines before an election to ensure that ballots display properly and that votes are cast and counted accurately. However, testing does not always catch every problem. During the 2014 midterm election, jurisdictions in Virginia and Texas experienced trouble with some of their machines.

Bexar County, Texas, made news on Election Day when one voting machine failed to display the name of the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Abbott, and instead showed that of David Dewhurst, who lost the Republican primary earlier in the year. The machine was disabled as soon as the error was identified.

Texas mandates three types of testing for voting machines: a hardware diagnostic test, a logic and accuracy test, and a postelection audit. The problem in Bexar County was due to a faulty memory card, and the manufacturer, Election Systems & Software, is conducting a review to find the root cause.

In 43 precincts in Virginia Beach and Newport News, Virginia, votes for Scott Rigell for Congress were recorded as ballots cast for his opponent. These jurisdictions completed the state’s required testing, but it was conducted at a central location, and the jostling of voting machines in transit to the polling places caused problems with machine calibration. The Virginia Department of Elections stated that malfunctioning machines were taken out of service until technicians from the state and the manufacturer could fix them.

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