Who’s in Charge: Secretary of State Rolando Pablos

As early voters made their ways to the polls in Texas, reports surfaced that some voting machines were changing ballot selections from Democratic contender to Beto O’Rourke to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, stoking concerns that they’d been compromised or some sort of nefarious actions were afoot.

Not so, said Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, who said fewer than 20 complaints had been lodged by voters. The voting machines in question, made by Hart Intercivic eSlate and used in 82 Texas counties, were not malfunctioning, or arbitrarily switching the choices of straight-ballot voters – those who vote a party ticket straight down the ballot, but instead stemmed from voters casting a straight-party ticket moving from one screen to the next before the system finishing rendering their choices, Pablos’s office said.

While there was no evidence that Texas voting or voting registration systems were compromised in 2016 (or any other election), the state nonetheless has invested in “effective and forward-thinking cybersecurity measures to further strengthen” election systems and safeguard the elections infrastructure against malicious cyberactivity, according to the Secretary of State’s election web page. For instance, the state said voting machines were not “connected to the internet at any point either when votes are being cast or when they are being counted.” Those computers used to count or accumulate vote totals can only be outfitted with software certified by the Secretary of State.

Voting precincts seal their systems with locks and seals bearing unique serial numbers every day after use, with election workers following a proper chain of custody. Equipment is inspected periodically by election judges while voting is underway and before the machines are used they’re tested twice – “a deck of ballots being voted on the machines and then tabulated to ensure that the machine results are correct and match the test stack of ballots,” the website noted – then again immediately after the election. “The machines cannot be used or deployed until the test is 100% successful,” Pablos’s office said. “Note that one of the tests conducted before the machines are used in an election is open to the public, and notice of this test is published in a local paper.”

The state also insists on background checks anyone preparing, testing or servicing voting system equipment. Texas also requires any election with paper ballots to undergo a post-election audit.

Before an election general custodian for the state’s election records must also inventory and monitor electronic information storage media, track the custody of each storage medium – coded to a particularly election – and store it in a safe location while not in use.