‘This is for real!’ says VA voter whose machine picked wrong candidate


ELECTRONIC ERROR: Voting machines in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia selected the Democratic candidate when they tried to pick the Republican.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va.— Retired Navy officer Mark Orr of Virginia Beach heard about electronic voting machines in other states, machines that selected the Democrat when voters tried to choose the Republican.

On the morning of the election, he heard reports about voters having problems at the polls in the Hampton Roads region. But he still found the stories a little hard to believe — until the same thing happened to him.

“I had heard in Illinois they were having problems — and maybe it’s just me — but, Oh sure, how could it be?” Orr told Watchdog.org. “But when it was happening to me, I went ‘holy crap! This is for real!’”

Even more concerning than the glitch was how he election officials at the Fairfield Precinct No. 26 and the Virginia Beach General Registrar’s Office handled it.

Early Tuesday morning, voters began reporting that they were unable to select some of the Republican candidates in Newport News and Virginia Beach. When voters in the 2nd District tried to select, say, Republican Congressman Scott Rigell, the machine automatically selected his challenger, Democrat Suzanne Patrick.

That’s exactly what happened to Orr.

When he arrived at his precinct around 11:30 a.m., poll workers were handing out Q-tips to help voters make their selections more accurately, Orr said.

“So that’s what I used because it was more precise to get it in the center of the box,” Orr said.

But when Orr selected Rigell, “it immediately switched to the Democrat,” he said.

So, he hit the backspace and tried to vote two more times — still nothing.

Eventually, Orr was able to summon a poll worker, and then another.

“They clearly saw that it switched,” Orr said. “I had two polling station workers witness this.”

Six times, he tried to select Rigell — and each time it switched to Patrick. To learn whether the machine would switch his selection when he chose the Democrat, Orr selected Patrick. The machine accepted his selection.

“Finally, I said, ‘Look I want this machine taken out of service and I would still like to vote, but not on this machine,’” Orr said.

Orr said one of the poll workers said he could write-in his selection, an option Orr didn’t find acceptable. Orr said when one poll worker called into the Virginia Beach Registrar’s Office, the poll worker said there was no need to file a report about the malfunctioning machine.

“I was shocked that they didn’t take it out of service immediately when I showed them the problem,” Orr said.

The machine eventually timed out, and Orr was able to successfully make his selection on another machine.

But as Orr was leaving, he was unsettled to see another voter using the same, malfunctioning machine.

“That kind of disturbed me that they left that in service,” Orr said.

Orr wondered how election officials are supposed to know what machines have problems if no reports or identifications are made for malfunctioning machines.

“The machine wasn’t taken out of service, so now how do you even know what machine it was to do any forensic analysis on it?”

Watchdog.org has left two messages with the office of Virginia Beach General Registrar Donna Patterson.

Republicans weren’t the only ones who reported machine problems Tuesday, although Patrick’s office received few complaints, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

The Virginian-Pilot recorded the account of one voter who had to try multiple times to cast a ballot for incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who ultimately declared victory over Republican Ed Gillespie with a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote.

Eduardo Cortes, commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Elections, said 32 of Virginia Beach’s 820 AccuVote TSX machines were taken out of service by 3:30 p.m., and four were taken out of service in Newport News.

On Tuesday, Cortes didn’t know how many people voted on malfunctioning machines before the machines were taken out of service.

The Virginia Department of Elections, as in other states, blamed “calibration” issues.

In a national press conference on voter access issues Tuesday, president of the Verified Voting Foundation Pam Smith told Watchdog.org outdated electronic machines are to blame around the country.

Smith said voting machines are “prone” to “calibration problems,” and “that’s going to get worse with age and time.” Add that to the financial “dry spell” many localities are experiencing.

“So it gets to be kind of a perfect storm,” she said.

Smith said her organization would take action “as the dust settles.”

But Orr isn’t so sure calibration woes are really to blame.

“We’ve been using touch screens for decades,” Orr said. “I go to my ATM at least once a week or so and I’ve got my smart phone and my tablet and I have no problem whatsoever using them.”

“That’s my biggest concern is from what I’m seeing and reading, this appears to be pretty widespread across the country,” Orr said. “It’s just not here.”

The errors on the electronic machines have Orr and others saying it may be time to go back to the 20th Century with paper ballots.

That was the possible takeaway for conservative Republican Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas.

“It may be smarter to go back to the old machines that scanned a paper ballot that you put a mark on,” Marshall told Watchdog.org.

Whatever happens, Orr doesn’t have much faith in the status quo system.

“I no longer have trust in these machines, and it think we ought to go back to the paper ballot,” Orr said.

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org, or found on Twitter @kathrynw5.