Since early voting began in Texas on Monday, there have been scattered reports of “vote flipping,” or people trying to vote for one candidate only to see an electronic voting machine preliminarily register their vote for another.
Those reports, along with the long lines some voters have had to endure, were cited by Donald Trump on Thursday morning to augment the “rigged polling places” conspiracy theory he’s been developing in recent weeks.
A lot of call-ins about vote flipping at the voting booths in Texas. People are not happy. BIG lines. What is going on?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2016
Despite Trump’s suggestion that nefarious forces are at work, election officials in Texas report that “vote flipping” problems are the result of either aging, miscalibrated machines or user mistakes. When machine errors are brought to officials’ attention, they either direct voters to use another machine or cast a paper ballot.
As Collin County elections official Bruce Sherbet told the Dallas Morning News, “If we had someone in the polling place tell us, ‘Hey, it marked something other than what I marked on the screen,’ we would stop the process and ask the voter to show us.”
“We can absolutely verify and check that in front of the voter,” he added. “If there were a problem with a machine, it would immediately be taken out of service.”
It’s also worth noting that Texas is one of 29 states where the elections process is controlled by Republican officials. So even if rigging were going on, Trump’s argument would have to be that officials from his own party are rigging the election against him.
As for the long lines, reports from Texas indicate they are simply the result of heightened interest or concern about this election, not a conspiracy to prevent Trump voters from casting ballots.
Echoes of 2012
Mitt Romney won Texas by nearly 16 points in 2012, but recent polling indicates that for the first time in decades, Texas is now a toss-up. In the event Trump suffers a shocking defeat in the Lone Star State, he’s laying the groundwork to make a case that victory was stolen from him.
Then again, as Media Matters points out, Trump argued voting machines were rigged against Romney as well.
More reports of voting machines switching Romney votes to Obama. Pay close attention to the machines, don't let your vote be stolen
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
But as Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice told NPR, rigging voting machines wouldn’t be a very smart way to try to steal an election.
“If you were actually trying to rig an election, it would be a very stupid thing to do, to let the voter know that you were doing it,” Norden said. “I do think if somebody was hacking into a machine they wouldn’t do this, to kind of notify the voter that the machine wasn’t working.”
Coincidentally, election officials do urge that voters using machines to cast ballots pay close attention — not because their vote might be stolen, but because the only surefire defense against user error and malfunctioning machines is to make sure you’ve actually selected the candidate you intended to before finalizing your ballot.