Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is beginning to promote stories of possible voter fraud, taking to Twitter on Thursday morning to allege that votes are being “flipped” in Texas. This comes after several weeks of the candidate saying that the election will be “rigged” without providing any specific evidence.
So what is Trump talking about here? Have there been reports of votes being changed in Texas?
There have, in fact, been a few stories here and there of errors at voting booths in the state. According to NPR, some voters in three counties across Texas have said that they attempted to vote straight Republican, but the machine registered this on screen as a vote for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. This is referred to as “vote flipping,” i.e. a person’s vote being flipped to the opposite party that they’re attempting to vote for.
But these individual issues are not evidence of voter fraud. Election officials in both parties say that this is simply a problem that sometimes arises with faulty machines that rely on extremely old technology. Because of that, the calibration can be a bit off, with the machines very occasionally not registering a person’s touch correctly and needing to be replaced. But because the issue is prominently displayed on screen, voters can easily just press again to switch their vote, or they can inform an election official who will step in and correct the issue. In most instances, then, the vote isn’t actually counted incorrectly, and it was just a temporary glitch.
Over in Chambers County, Texas, emergency paper ballots were implemented for a day due to these calibration issues and until the machines could be brought in. These reports immediately went viral on social media, being promoted by fringe conspiracy websites like InfoWars. But according to 12 News, this issue was affecting votes for a statewide court of appeals race, not the presidential election. Plus, the problem was occurring for both Republicans and Democrats.
“The error was caused in programming by ES&S (Election Systems and Software Inc.), the vendor who programs the election software used in Chambers County,” a press release from Chambers County’s county clerk reads. “Immediately, Hawthorne contacted ES&S and advised them of the issue.”
In that particular instance, votes were taken on paper for a day until the machine could be fixed.
The Brennan Center for Justice released a report in 2015 about voting booth issues after interviewing over 100 election officials. They concluded that many of today’s voting systems are out of date, but with counties not having the resources to purchase new ones. While this itself is certainly an issue, it was clear that all of these problems of so-called “vote flipping” could be blamed on outdated technology, not on some sort of scheme to rig the election.
“Most of the time the problem with touch screen units is a calibration issue,” Election Assistance Commission’s Matt Masterson told The Brennan Center. “A touchscreen is three pieces of plastic layered over each other, the casing that holds those will loosen and that leads to calibration problems — that is going to happen with aging units.”
Besides, if this were part of a vote-rigging scheme as Trump implies, wouldn’t the culprits find a better way to change votes that doesn’t involve doing so right in front of the voter, therefore giving them ample opportunity to correct the issue with an election official?
These same “vote flipping” concerns have popped up in virtually every election cycle in recent times, including in 2008 and 2012, when the popular vote wasn’t remotely close. More individual cases will probably go viral and be promoted by Trump over the next few weeks, but there is simply not any evidence at this time that any of these isolated cases are evidence of voter fraud.
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