Voting machine maker sues to block rival companies’ paper-using devices


Highlights

A suit filed by Hart InterCivic seeks to block election officials from OK’ing machines that produce a receipt.

The lawsuit was filed after a state representative sought the Texas attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

The manufacturer of the digital voting machines used across the state has filed suit in Travis County state District Court, seeking to block the Texas secretary of state from certifying rival machine makers whose devices produce a paper receipt of votes cast.

The lawsuit adds to the growing controversy surrounding the security of voting systems across the country — prompted, in part, by fears of potential hacking and by claims by President Donald Trump that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election.

The lawsuit filed by Austin-based Hart InterCivic — the manufacturer of the eSlate voting machines used in Travis County — asks a state judge to pre-emptively rule that voting machines that produce a paper record don’t comply with state laws requiring the use of electronic voting machines for all countywide elections.

The Texas secretary of state’s office declined to comment on the case. Hart InterCivic’s attorney didn’t return calls from the American-Statesman.

RELATED: States scramble for funding to upgrade aging voting machines

According to the filing, the legal challenge comes in response to a letter that state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, inquiring about the legality of allowing the systems that use paper receipts.

Electronic voting machines have made it easier for citizens to cast their ballots and for election officials to count them,” Larson wrote in the inquiry. “But there have always been concerns that purely electronic voting systems may become vulnerable to tampering.

“And the mere perception of such a risk, even if conjectural or theoretical, can undermine public confidence in the election process,” he said

Larson isn’t alone in the push for voting machines that provide a paper trail for possible recounts. Travis County’s top elections official also has eyed these machines.

I’ve been pushing for a year to get a paper trail,” said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. “Maybe someone over there” — she added, referring to the Legislature — “finally woke up.”

However, her counterpart in Houston, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, disagrees. In a letter Stanart sent to the attorney general, he asked Paxton to nix Larson’s request.

“The production and use of marked paper ballots, even within an otherwise electronic system, reintroduces the potential for manual ballot manipulation and other forms of election fraud,” Stanart wrote.

Denton County commissioners voted in June to spend about $9 million to buy new Hart InterCivic voting machines that will return county voters to an entirely paper-based, print-on-demand ballot system in time for this year’s November elections. Denton County, which had used a hybrid voting system of both electronic and paper ballots for about a decade, made the move after trouble during the November 2016 elections.

According to information available on the secretary of state’s website, four voting machine vendors are certified in Texas, with Hart and Election Systems & Software Inc., based in Omaha, Neb., both having machines in most Texas counties.

The suit over voting machines comes as Texas faces legal scrutiny on two other fronts: voter ID requirements and gerrymandering. Two federal courts in April concluded that Republican lawmakers sought to dampen the growing influence of Hispanics and blacks at the ballot box by adopting a voter ID law and drawing maps that overwhelmingly favored GOP candidates.



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