Flaws in voting machines shouldn’t deter people from voting, UT expert says

Sunny Kim

A few days ago, people claimed their straight-ticket votes were incorrectly changed to someone in the opposite party, according to the Texas Tribune.

 It happened with the Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines, which are used in 82 of Texas’ 254 counties, including Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties, according to technology publication The Verge. State officials said this incident is due to user error, not because of broken or malfunctioning machines.

UT computer science professor Hovav Shacham specializes in computer and voter security. He said the recent issues with the machines has to do with a poorly designed user interface by which people and computer systems interact with each other. Examples of user interface include display screens, keyboards and a mouse.

When voters use the machine to record their results but touch the screen while the page is still loading, it can change their ballots without notifying the user, according to The Verge.

Shacham said the voting machine technologies need to become easier to use. 

“Even if it is user error, that’s still very unfortunate,” Shacham said. “Machines used in elections should not have unexpected user interface ‘gotchas.’ Anytime you start saying, ‘Well, the users did something wrong and that’s why this happened,’ your user interface is not good enough.”

On top of that, there have always been existing flaws in the design and programming of voting machines that allow an attacker to replace the software on the machine to make it misreport votes, Shacham said.

“The specific machines that we’ve studied, including these eSlate devices from Hart, have flaws that make it easier for the attacker to replace the programming on the machines with different programming that steals votes without having to do some sort of super-sophisticated James Bond villain kind of attack,” Shacham said.

Computer science senior Aishwarya Shashidhar is taking two classes at UT related to security. She said there will always be issues with technology, whether it’s a simple device or a voting machine. As voters, we should be aware of potential user errors to make sure we are casting the right ballot for the right candidate, Shashidhar said.

“Technology is never perfect and can always be improved, but we also expect our information to be respected and protected,bsespecially for the voting system,” Shashidhar said. “If voters are aware that this is an issue, they need to be diligent to check their final ballot.”

Shacham said reports concerning voter security issues are things that experts must be aware of in order to provide a better system for the public. However, this shouldn’t deter people from voting, he said.

“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote,” Shacham said. “We should vote to represent all of our best interests.”