Early voting began Monday, with large crowds at many of the precincts, Democratic and Republican candidate's supporters voicing their opinion's before and after their votes. pmoseley@star-telegram.com
Early voting began Monday, with large crowds at many of the precincts, Democratic and Republican candidate's supporters voicing their opinion's before and after their votes. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Elections

‘Voter error’ flipped GOP ballot to Democrat in Tarrant

By Anna M. Tinsley

atinsley@star-telegram.com

October 25, 2016 11:27 AM

UPDATED October 26, 2016 03:20 PM

A voter complaint about trying to cast a straight-party Republican vote — and noticing that the presidential vote flipped to Democrat — was resolved in Tarrant County before the ballot was cast, election officials say.

The incident became the talk of social media after the problem was described on Facebook.

It was one of two such complaints on the first day of early voting in Tarrant County, said Frank Phillips, the county’s elections administrator.

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Tarrant County elections officials stress that the equipment used for local voters is secure and operating properly.

In this type of situation, standard procedure calls for contacting the election judge to see what he or she can say about the problem, sending a technician to check the equipment and trying to replicate the problem at election headquarters.

Phillips said the election judge voided the woman’s ballot at the Arlington polling place and moved her to another machine where she was able to cast the vote she wanted.

The equipment was checked, no problems were found and election officials could not replicate the error at headquarters.

Phillips has said his office has received a number of calls this week alleging that some equipment changed straight-party votes, but most of them came from people who heard about such an incident happening to someone else.

“Our investigations have indicated that the voter did not follow the directions for straight-party voting when they inadvertently click the ‘enter’ button or turn the wheel, causing the change in votes,” Phillips said in a statement Tuesday. “Further, in each incident where we could actually speak to a voter, they tell us that they discovered the changed vote on the summary screen display.

“This shows that the machine is working exactly as it should,” he said. “The voter gets to review a summary of vote choices made and make any changes as needed before actually casting the vote.”

As for the second case, election officials heard about it through word of mouth. They checked with the election judge, who didn’t have any details. They don’t know whether the second problem was resolved.

Signs posted in polling sites note that when a person casts a straight-party vote, the machine automatically gives a vote to all candidates associated with that party. But if a voter tries to “highlight the name of a candidate that has already received a straight-party vote, pressing ENTER again will remove the vote from that candidate and the box to the left of that candidate’s name will be cleared, indicating no vote has been entered for that candidate.”

Voters who choose a candidate “associated with a party other than the straight-party selection, your vote for that candidate will be counted in that particular process.”

Check your vote

Election officials urge voters to carefully review the summary screen. If there are any concerns, they say, voters should not press the “cast ballot” button and should call an election official over to help. Once a ballot has been cast, officials can’t retrieve or reissue it.

Similar isolated problems were reported in Dallas County and in a few other parts of the state. Garland City Councilman Stephen Stanley said he went to an early voting station at Nicholson Memorial South Branch Library on Tuesday morning while campaigning for candidates on the ballot.

He said around noon a woman came out of the library and told him she had tried to vote straight ticket Republican but the machine said she had voted straight Democrat.

The woman told him a poll worker apologized that the machine wasn’t working and told her to use another.

Stanley said he was worried about people who didn’t double-check their ballots.

“My question is how many other people didn’t know,” Stanley said.

Early voting runs through Nov. 4.

Another post gaining momentum on Facebook is a joke telling voters to remember their “assigned voting dates — Nov. 8 for Republicans and Nov. 9 for Democrats.”

Election Day for all voters is Nov. 8.

Huge turnout

A record 43,000 voters turned out on the first day of early voting in Tarrant County, weighing in on the presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the Arlington stadium proposition and a slew of other races.

The Texas secretary of state’s office on Tuesday released the top 15 counties for the first day of early voting, showing high turnout in major metropolitan areas. Dallas and Tarrant counties were two and three on the list, respectively. Harris County, home of Texas’ largest city, Houston, was No. 1.

Texas’ three largest border counties saw an 83 percent increase in turnout on Monday’s first day of early voting compared with 2012, leading some Democrats to hope the big turnout is a good sign for their party. Democrats have emphasized early voting turnout for years, and Republicans have been gaining strength in early balloting in recent elections.

El Paso County turnout increased 106 percent over 2012, to 19,458, according to the secretary of state’s office. In Cameron County (Brownsville), turnout increased 75 percent on the first day of early voting, and in Hidalgo County (McAllen), it rose 70 percent.

One of the key questions is whether Trump’s frequently charged rhetoric about Mexico, immigration and the border would will affect turnout.

It’s difficult to determine whether the heavy early voting on the border is reflective of more turnout or of people just voting earlier.

But an El Paso Times analysis of the first day of early voting in El Paso County indicates that the Trump-Clinton race is driving new or infrequent voters to the polls.

Other states are having big turnouts as well. And some experts say the surge of early voting — in which one-third of the nation’s voters may turn out before Election Day — is giving Clinton an important boost in swing states, although Republicans argue otherwise.

“All the data we are seeing suggests that Clinton is doing as well, if not better, than Obama in many, if not most, places,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

So far, an estimated 7.2 million people have voted nationwide, and the news is promising for Clinton in Florida and North Carolina. Polls show the race too close to call in North Carolina and Clinton up slightly in Florida. Without those states’ 44 electoral votes, Donald Trump’s prospects of reaching the 270 needed to win are dim.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram Washington Bureau, The Texas Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press.

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Election Information

To see a sample ballot, go to the Tarrant County elections website.

To ask for a ballot by mail, call the Tarrant County Elections Office at 817-831-8683. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 28.

For more information about candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot, go to the Star-Telegram website, www.star-telegram.com, to read the online Voters Guide.