Kat Cano, a Democrat member of the Tarrant County testing board, called out the precinct number of a test ballot Sept. 20 at the Tarrant County’s election administration warehouse.
“Yep,” Rene Perez, a Libertarian testing board member, replied, affirming the number matches his tape. “I have a vote for Greg Abbott, and I have no other votes,” Cano said.
“That’s correct,” Perez responded. Two women, who were there to observe, nodded and took notes while Cano and Perez went through the same verification process six more times.
Members of the Tarrant County Testing Board, made up of members of Tarrant County’s Ballot Board, are spending five days verifying the accuracy of every single voting machine, scanner and ballot.
The test, mandated by the state, is designed to ensure that every ballot in Tarrant County is printed correctly and every voting machine will work correctly on Election Day. It also gives skeptics a chance to see the verification process at work in front of their own eyes, Heider Garcia, Tarrant County’s Election Administrator, said. This year, the county will go beyond the state’s requirements and host a randomized test Sept. 23 at the Elections Administration building, 2700 Premier St.
If you go:
You may participate in the random election test starting at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 23. The event will take place at the Tarrant County Elections Administration building, 2700 Premier St., Fort Worth, TX 76111.
“This is unexpected, unplanned, unscripted, and it should match,” Garcia said. “I don’t know how many people are going to show up. I don’t know what they’re going to do. What I know is that when I count those ballots they are going to match the tapes.”
Skeptics of Tarrant County’s election process assert that, in past public tests, the results of the test were predetermined and not evidence of reliable equipment.
“When there are predetermined test results designed by the same team who configured the election, it might cause a potential risk of manipulation,” Xiaomei Wang, an accountant and frequent election skeptic, said. “How can one prove the testing result is not an outcome from a program but the true testing results?”
This additional test should leave no doubt, Garcia said, that the ballots and machines are ready to be used on Election Day.
Anyone may show up and participate by filling out a ballot and casting a vote. The vote will not count as an actual vote cast in the upcoming November election.
The event is an experiment, Garcia said, and he hopes to allow people to cast as many test ballots as they like until they’re satisfied.
The county will offer three different ways to cast a test ballot — an early voting ballot, an Election Day ballot and a hand-marked absentee ballot.
Tentatively, participants will make their ballots and process them through one of two scanners — one is used for early voting, another for Election Day. If participants want to handmark a ballot, as an absentee voter would, election staff will run the ballot through Tarrant County’s central scanner. Tarrant County elections workers then compare the results from the scanners to the paper ballots by hand counting the ballots.
Garcia hopes to complete the hand count by 5 p.m. Friday to conclude the test the same day the test votes are cast.
Logic and accuracy test
Dozens of voting machines are lined up side by side in the Tarrant County Election Administration warehouse, where they’ll remain during the duration of the county’s logic and accuracy test.
This test precedes the random test and fulfills the states requirements to ensure that every ballot is printed correctly and every machine is programmed correctly.
“Before we use the equipment, we have to do a public test and make sure that we cast a ballot for each candidate and each race in every precinct to make sure that when a voter out there votes for ‘John Doe,’ it’s actually counted as a John Doe,” Garcia said.
The state-required test is open to public observers and gives the county a chance to verify its ballots and machines before sending absentee ballots to overseas voters.
The Tarrant County Elections Administration produces between 120 to 3,200 different ballots for every election. Each government entity holding an election — counties, school boards, cities, special taxing districts like water districts and the state — has to tell the Tarrant County Elections Administration what names will be on the ballot for what position.
Texas allows candidates to file to run for office as late as July 23. That gives election officials two weeks to receive ballot information, run the public test and send ballots out to absentee voters overseas — Texas laws require election officials to send the ballots 45 days before Election Day.
To conduct the logic and accuracy test, members of the testing board will run a ballot marked for every single candidate through a test to ensure that the ballot is correct. Then, the board will run every ballot through every machine.
“By the end of the test, you should have voted for everyone and every race and tested every machine,” Garcia said. “So now you know the equipment works, and it’s properly configured.”
The testing board audits the test just as it would audit an actual election — by comparing the marked paper ballots to the tapes spit out by the scanners.
That’s why state laws require the testing to be public, to bolster the reliability of the voting system, Garcia said.
“It gives people a chance to understand the system does the job it’s supposed to do,” Garcia said, “without getting into the confusing and sometimes complicated world of IT.”
The additional Friday test is a response to election skeptics who allege that the public test is bogus because the results are predetermined, asserting election officials know what results the machine should spit out because the input is selected ahead of time.
“I thought, I can bust this one pretty quick,” Garcia said.
To prove the test is legitimate, Garcia will invite people to cast ballots in different forms — hand-marked absentee ballots and in-person paper ballots — then run those ballots through an early voting and Election Day scanner. Election staff will run absentee ballots through a central scanner — just as they would on election day.
“The machines are not preprogrammed to give you a specific result. They’re doing their job, and that’s it,” Garcia said.
The Texas Secretary of State is excited by the idea of an additional random public test, Garcia said. A state employee will be present to observe the daylong test, he said.
“I think you know, more testing and more evidence of the system working as it should never hurt, right?” Garcia said. “I think the election code as it’s laid out … If you do the bare minimum, you’re doing a lot.”
Garcia hopes the test will turn attention away from theories about the reliability of elections, and toward the election itself — specifically getting residents out to vote.
“If you’re being scared by these groups to (wonder), ‘Oh, is it worth it? (to vote),’We’re working our butts off to make you realize that it is,” Garcia said.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.