A Short Look at the Election Technologies that are in Common Use for Voting in Texas.
Below is an explanation of the various items that are in use to vote at locations across the state and even across the country.
Poll Books are basically tablet computers or Ipads that are internet connected and access voter rolls in a data base stored in the cloud. One of the principle advantages of this is that a voter can check in at any polling location and vote. This is known as a county wide voting program. If the voter tries to vote again at another location, the pads should show that he has already voted and deny him another ballot, or if there is some doubt, only allow him to cast a provisional ballot.
In my view the main downside is that the voter registration information is now out of the control of the county administrators and the security is in the hands of the equipment vendor. I cannot prove any of my assertions at the moment, but I have no doubt that very soon, data experts will be showing us how these systems are being used maliciously and how they are a key component of widespread election fraud. The county wide voting system is very popular with many people and you can not have that without the poll books. I think this will become a contentious issue in the next year.
Direct Recording Devices or DRE’s, are computers with a touch screen that shows the ballot to you in a graphical format. You then select your choices on the screen. When you are through making your choices, you hit enter and your vote is directly recorded on that device. These are capable of storing many different ballot types so they can be used with a county wide polling place program. These are in use in many Texas counties and there is no effective way to audit them. What is recorded on the drive is what they have and there is no way to cross check since there is no paper. Some of these devices have added printers and the law stated that all of them must have printers so that the voter can see their choices on paper no later than 2026. I'm dubious of the solution, but I haven’t spent much time on it since my county doesn’t have them. These were a bad idea from the start. They are ADA compliant.
It is important to say a word about ballot styles here. Tarrant County can have as many as a thousand ballot styles. This is due to the combinations of state senate, state house, US house, school district, city and water district races. This is a complicated thing to manage.
Ballot Marking Devices are what we use here in Tarrant County. BMD’s are similar in appearance to DRE’s, but they do not store your vote directly. They always present you with a printed ballot showing your choices so that you can review them before inserting the ballot into a scanner to be counted. These were sold to us with the idea that even though the vote is cast on a machine and counted on another machine, that there would always be a paper backup to look at. What they didn’t tell us was that they would make it near impossible to see the paper ballots if you suspected problems. Another issue is that there is no human interaction with the paper and therefore one could look exactly like another, which is not likely with human interaction. I am not aware of any instances where they have been shown to be part of a fraudulent election, but the Dominion version used in GA is suspect. The Dominion version does print your vote in plain English, but it also encodes it in a QR code. The QR code is what the scanner/tabulator actually counts. You or I don’t know what’s in the QR code, and it’s a proprietary format. I’m not familiar with the ES&S versions which was also have here in Texas. Dominion is not certified for use in Texas. We are told that the Hart equipment reads the text and not the QR code. I’m unable to verify that.
These are expensive, they require a lot of room to store and require testing before each election. This takes a lot of time and manpower. The election administrators tell me that they think this level of expense is justified in removing the problems with conventional paper ballots. They think there are fewer over votes and under votes and fewer ballots where the voters intent isn’t clear due to stray marks, poor marking, bleed through, and errant folding that cause issues with the scanners etc. They are also ADA compliant. On some level, these ballots would be harder for the average guy to forge. They use a thermal paper that can’t be bought at every office supply and they utilize a numbering system – at least the Hart branded equipment we have does – that is generated by the machine and the scanner will not accept an out of range ballot. There are ways around that, but it will have to be more sophisticated than what we saw in Georgia and Maricopa for instance. To verify that things work as we think they should, the public needs to see the configuration data etc. That has not been done, but I am working on it.
Another down side is that a majority of voters never look at the ballot before they put it in the scanner. I’ve used them four times and the first time I didn’t think to look until right after the scanner took it. The second time I did look and the third time I almost forgot again. The forth time despite being a poll worker when I cast the vote, I don’t remember looking at the ballot.
I should point out that there is a requirement to have an ADA compliant device or devices available at all polling locations. We also have to make curbside voting available which is not the same thing as drive through voting. This is for people that have great difficulty getting out of their car. Both BMD’s and DRE’s satisfy these requirements.
Before I worked as a poll worker, I was rather ambivalent about the BMD’s except for their cost. After working the polls, I don’t like them. The lack of human interaction with the actual ballot is the main reason. Few people even look at their ballot once they are printed. Once printed, there is no real indication that the document is indeed a human generated document or the product of computer programming. The protection against this threat is a data base and data bases can be altered. Printing is an issue. If there is any piece of office equipment that is prone to troubles, it’s a printer, and every BMD has one. There were issues with paper jams and the like all day long. We had some printers that did not always print clearly and then the ballots wouldn’t scan causing more issues. The amount of available equipment is the major choke point and the major cause of long lines. The logistical tail to store, test, transport, set up, use, and tear down these things is huge and in my view not justified. When the other downsides are added, my opinion is that these things should have never by people that were familiar with election operations.
This brings us to old fashioned hand marked ballots and today the are still used in a number of ways. All mail in voting that I’m aware of is done with hand marked ballots that are pre-printed and mailed out ahead of time. There are many jurisdictions that still use pre-printed ballots for in person voting.
Several jurisdictions print hand marked ballots on demand. Maricopa County and our very own Denton County both come to mind. You show up at the polling place and instead of being given a code that brings up your ballot on a BMD like we do here, they print a ballot for your precinct on demand. You mark your ballot and it goes into a scanner/tabulator to be counted.
Many people here in Tarrant County and across the country are adamant about using this type of ballot over the BMD’s, or DRE’s. If you are using DRE’s in your community I’d change immediately. I’m now in the opinion that I would also do away with he BMD’s also but I don’t have the complete hatred of them that I do with the DRE’s. If we were to go to hand marked ballots, they need to have adequate security features including, but not limited to being strictly serial numbered and controlled. I believe that I would tend to reject the print on demand because it does not eliminate the database and it still leaves us a technological point of failure on election day. If I lose the argument on their use, I would demand pre-numbered, security featured, and controlled ballot stock for their medium. No ballot would be countable without the proper security features.
I have to note that every place we suspect of major fraud used hand marked paper ballots. Even here in Tarrant County we had issues with pre-printed hand marked ballots from mail in voters that wouldn’t scan properly, and we had to duplicate 20K or so ballots. A huge undertaking. Do not think that there is a panacea with any election method.
Next up in “voting Amish” and various other voting propositions that have been put forward.
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