SPECIAL REPORT: Texas elections integrity in question

Election

As voters head to the polls this election cycle, an unprecedented number of Texans have been questioning the validity of our state’s voting process. 

Specifically, when it comes to electronic voting and how votes are counted, reported and preserved, or recounted in the case of a tight race. 
 
“At each polling location, the judges print out a total tape. And then they pull all of the flash cards, which is like a SIM card, so to speak, that has the votes on there. They’re locked into a zipper bag that has a seal lock on it. And those are brought back to the elections office,” Karen Nelson, Smith County election’s administrator,  explained.
 
For voters, you’re told to trust the system. 
 
For candidates, you’re told to accept the voters decision. 
 
But what happens if a recount is requested and elections officials fail to provide data, required by law, to prove this “system” works?
 
Think it can’t happen?
 
Doctor Laura Pressley has been working in computer technology for nearly two decades. In 2014, she ran for Austin city council.
 
Doctor Pressley says professional polls leading up to the election showed she was winning her race by a substantial margin, but on election night, it was a different story. 
 
“When the electronic voting results, were reported, it showed my opponent had beaten me two to one, and that was absolutely impossible,” Pressley said.
 
The next morning, she and her team started analyzing their election data. They say they discovered, voting discrepancies. 
 
“There were more voters who had cast ballots than there were names who had voted in almost every single precinct in my district in early voting,” explained Pressley.
 
So, they turned to the Texas election code to see how electronic votes are preserved, and how to conduct an official recount. 
 
As defined by the Texas legislature, there are two ways to conduct an election recount. 
 
The first is to simply rerun the electronic voting tabulations. 
 
The second, recounting the backup record of ballot images cast that day.
 
Since Doctor Pressley’s team say they found discrepancies in the electronic voting records, they opted for paper backup. 
 
Pressley said, “When we showed up to the recount, Travis county pulled me into a room with one of our poll watchers and said very quietly, ‘Well, we can’t give you a ballot image. ‘And I was like ‘What, you can’t give me what’s required by law?'”
 
Instead, they provided her with an alternative called a “cast vote record.” 
 
Unlike an actual ballot image, these CVRs lack a unique serial number, the date of the actual election and all candidate’s names, and no where in the Texas constitution does it mention “cast vote records.” 
 
“So that was very concerning. And we were not happy that they were not adhering to state law,” Pressley said.
 
So, they filed a lawsuit. 
 
According to the texas election code, there are three types of paper records required by law, for electronic voting in Texas. 
 
The first: retaining a paper ballot image, which Travis County failed to produce.
 
The second: backup up tapes of the votes cast, printed by election judges.
 
During their round of discovery, Doctor Pressley says her team found out the Travis county clerk instructed the election judges not to print the backup tapes.
 
It was another dead end but also a piece of evidence for their case. 
 
The third: real time paper audit logs of the votes cast. 
 
“Well what we got in discovery was really shocking. We got the audit logs of the main tally computer where the votes are being added up. And there were corruption errors with the memory cards that were being inserted into the tabulation computers,” explained Pressley. 
 
With no ballot images, no tapes printed and corruption errors in the voting tabulation, Doctor Pressley’s team believed they were building a solid case. 
 
However, during the hearing, District Judge Dan Mills ruled her team did not have sufficient evidence to question or overturn the election result.
 
Pressley said, “He also sanctioned us about $90,000 for a frivolous lawsuit, and it was said in the courtroom that this was to chill any other candidate from ever bringing an election contest in the state of Texas, challenging these electronic voting machines ever again.”
 
Pressley’s team appealed the decision.
 
She said, “I believe it was a scare tactic.They never thought that we would get this far.”
 
While she waits in the appeals process, Pressley has been touring the state, giving presentations on election integrity and sharing with Texans what happened to her in Travis County. 
 
“What we’ve found is that this is going on all over the state of Texas,” said Pressley.
 
But who’s letting this happen?
 
In her research, Doctor Pressley discovered it goes all the way to the top. 
 
The election’s division of the Secretary of State’s office has been issuing waivers to counties and precincts across Texas, excusing them from producing ballot images of elections, and in some cases printing elections results tapes. 
 
On October 12th, Secretary of State Carlos Cascos was in Tyler for a voting campaign tour. So, we asked him if he had any information about these waivers issued from his office. 
 
“No I really don’t, unless my media person wants to attack that one,” was the answer from Secretary Cascos.
 
We spoke to his “media person”, Alicia Pierce after the news conference. 
 
She wouldn’t go on camera but told our photojournalist that the Secretary of State’s Office “grants waivers in certain situations to counties and precincts who have faulty equipment.”
 
However, we spoke to her again and asked why waivers are granted.
 
“If we are issuing waivers, it’s because we have been given specific authority to do so by the Texas election code,” Pierce said.
 
“Where in the statutes does it say secretary of state’s office, you can tell counties not to follow law?” Pressley asks. 
 
According to the Texas election code, there is a statute saying the Secretary of State’s office can modify procedures, but it doesn’t say modify the “law.” 
 
Pierce explained, “As a state agency, we cannot supercede the law. It is not in the power to rewrite the law. And anytime that there is a waiver granted, it is not in spite of the law. That is because we have been explicitly granted the authority to issue a waiver under Texas law.”
 
In Smith County, Nelson says they’ve always printed out the results tapes, and receiving a waiver allowing them to skip that process would jeopardize the validity of the election.
 
“It’s time consuming you know to do that step, but It’s important for checks and balances because you can check the number on the total tape, and you can check it against the number of check-ins that you had on your computer,” Nelson said.
 
So, why waive such an important part of the checks and balances process? 
 
It’s a question we tried to ask the man issuing these waivers, the Director of Texas Elections, Keith Ingram.
 
After multiple phone calls and emails to him, on Monday, we received an email from the Secretary of States communication’s director, Alicia Pierce, whom we’d already spoken to. 
 
She wrote: “Hi Kim, I heard you were looking to do an interview with someone from our office, I’d be glad to visit with you.”
 
During our email conversation, Pierce released this statement, not on behalf of Keith Ingram, but as the director of communications: 
 
“The versions of the tapes printed may vary in a countywide polling place, but they will all contain the number of votes cast on the equipment that day in order for the number to reconciled to the check-in roster. In a countywide polling place county, by law the responsibility for producing the precinct returns lies with the presiding judge of central count. This is because in those counties any precinct’s voters can vote anywhere in the county. There is no possibility of a precinct return at any one polling place.”
 
She also added, “There are not any counties using electronic voting machines that do not have to print results tapes.”
 
In August, Ingram also proposed rule changes to get rid of the paper audit log, ballot images and paper tapes altogether for the November election, but Pressley says after hundreds of Texas voters and legislators protested the changes, the proposal was postponed, but not killed.
 
“It’s still on deck to be reviewed after the election,” Pressley said.
 
When that time comes, she says she plans to be there.
 
“We have to restore the balance of what we want. We get to choose the country we want. We get to choose those people that represent us, and if they’re not representing us, we get to remove them,” said Pressley.
 
Grounded in her faith, she believes this battle is happening for a reason, “I believe the Dear Lord put this in my lap, and he knew I wasn’t going to walk away.”
 
On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released an opinion on some of the issues raised by Pressley’s case.
 

Election code 66.023 (1)(2)(5) is ignored in the AG’s opinion, which defines the backup records for early voting, including the “precinct early voting list.”

Pierce says, “You are welcome to ask the AG’s office, but 66.0023 is the basis for the question and it is still part of the prescribed procedures for after the election, not during early voting.” 

Pressley says District Attorney Wiley McAfee is considering resubmitting the opinion request, drawing attention to this particular statute.

Meanwhile, Pressley says she and her team are continuing to put pressure on Governor Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the Texas Elections Committee to print tapes when the polls close on election day.

So far, no executive action has been taken to rescind those waivers issued by Keith Ingram. 
 
 

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