A voter trainer demonstrates the Hart Intercivic E-Slate electronic voting machines used in many Texas counties.

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A software flaw can be just as damaging to the voting process as a hacker.

This is clear in Texas, where some early voters claimed the machines altered their votes in the midterm elections. Keith Ingram, Texas Chief Electoral Officer, said in a review that the problem is happening because voters are rushing. The problem arises if a voter selects the “straight party ticket” option and then continues to press buttons before the page finishes loading on the screen, he said.

“As a reminder, voters should always check their review screen carefully before casting their vote,” Ingram said.

The complaints show that while much of the public debate about voting machines has focused on whether they could be hacked, crummy software also has the potential to undermine US elections. This is a problem for two reasons. First, it’s almost impossible to quickly fix bugs in voting machines when they appear so close to an election, experts said. And second, sometimes election officials don’t fix problems they’ve had for years. For machines used in Texas, voters complained on machines that “reverse” their votes since 2008.

Electronic voting machine experts should broaden their focus beyond looking for the kinds of flaws a hacker could exploit and start looking for flaws that only cause the machines to malfunction, Dan said. Wallach, voting machine security expert, professor of computer science at Rice University. “I would say that ten years ago we focused a lot on security bugs,” he said. “Glitches have never received the same degree of attention.”

If Texas election officials are right about what makes votes change, Wallach said, the problem isn’t that voters are moving too quickly. Instead, it’s a flaw in the software that needs to be fixed.

“It shouldn’t be possible just out of voter impatience for the machine to overturn the vote,” Wallach said.

A spokesperson for the Texas secretary of state did not respond to a request for comment on whether the issue could be investigated. In his notice to voters, the Texas Chief Electoral Officer instructions included explaining how to use the machines.

Complaints from voters also present one more reason why paper ballots must play a leading role in the voting process, said Marian Schneider, president of voting integrity advocacy group Verified Voting.

“It just raises a lot of doubts in voting systems and highlights why they need to be replaced,” Schneider said.


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For now, any malfunctioning machine must be taken out of service for inspection, and voters must in the meantime receive paper ballots in that constituency – enough paper ballots to last “several hours of voting”. if necessary, Schneider mentioned.

Wallach, who has studied voting machine security for more than a decade, also said he would need to see video of what voters are experiencing before he can pass judgment on the issue. We can’t know for sure if the problem is that voters keep pushing buttons, or if they just got it wrong and didn’t vote the way they wanted.

Wallach knows firsthand that software problems are hard to reproduce. That’s because he also votes in Texas on the same voting machines that other voters have complained about and tried to recreate the problem. He pressed the enter button on the machine and turned the dial as his ballot loaded. Nothing happened.

He also helped review the code who operates the machines — in 2007. At the time, he was commissioned by the State of California to track down security vulnerabilities. Now, Wallach said he wants to be able to search again to find the loophole that could be causing the problems voters reported.

“At the moment we only have a bunch of guesses,” he said.

Electoral security: Midterm elections, social media and hacking: what you need to know.

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