Fairfax Democrats issued a warning Thursday about reports that touch-screen voting machines were malfunctioning during early voting, switching ballot selections to the opposing candidate.
Fairfax County elections officials said they were aware of two instances in which voters claimed the machines had changed their votes. But officials expressed confidence that both were cases of user error.
The Fairfax County Democratic Committee issued a news release saying it had received “several reports of voting machines displaying opposite ballot selections on the final screen before the vote is cast.” Frank Anderson, executive director of the committee, said in an interview that eight to 15 voters had called to complain about problems with the machines.
The reports come at a time when concern about voter fraud is running high around the country and particularly in Virginia, where the presidential and U.S. Senate races are running neck-and-neck. The General Assembly passed voter ID law this year meant to prevent voter impersonation.
On Wednesday, the son of 11-term Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D) resigned from his father’s campaign after he was caught on an undercover video talking about voter fraud with someone posing as a campaign worker. Patrick Moran, the nephew of State Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran, is shown first trying to dissuade the worker from impersonating voters, but then offering him advice on how to pull it off.
Also this week, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) agreed to investigate allegations that Colin Small, a Republican Party contract worker, tossed eight voter registration forms into the trash behind a business in Rockingham County this month. The worker was arrested last week and faces 13 counts of voter registration fraud.
Anderson said he believes any problems in Fairfax were the result of “outdated machines,” not some sort of voter fraud scheme. He said voting machines wear out quickly in Virginia.
“Because Virginia has elections every five minutes, they get used two to there times as much as they would in another state,” Anderson said.
Cameron Quinn, general registrar for the Fairfax County Office of Elections, said she was aware of two instances in which voters claimed machines had malfunctioned. One was at the office’s headquarters, the other at a satellite voting location at Dolley Madison Library in McLean.
In one case, a voter told elections officials that after making her selections, the machine asked if she was sure she wanted to cast a blank ballot. She said she tried to go back to mark the ballot again, but it got cast instead. In the other case, a woman said that the machine had “flipped” her votes.
Luke Baranyk, machine coordinator for the office, said he and other poll officials tried to replicate the problems on the machines but found them to be working properly.
“In every case, it appeared it was some user unfamiliarity, and in some cases, panic, that may have had something to do with these situations,” Quinn said. “Nothing can be re-created to suggest there’s a problem.”
Baranyk said that the touch screens are sensitive, and that sometimes voters brush against them without realizing it.
“I would say if there are other objects attached to your body — long sleeves or bracelets — if there happens to be an option beneath, it may very well record whatever’s touched,” he said.
In its release, the committee warned anyone who suspects something has gone wrong while voting to stop, alert an election officer and not hit the final “vote” button to cast the ballot.
Quinn seconds that advice, stressing that elections officials do not have to look at the voter’s selections to resolve a problem.
“If there’s any question at all, just stop and ask for help,” she said. “Because if you do hit that ‘vote’ button, it’s over. And you don’t get to have a do-over.”