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FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions About eSlate



Electronic Voting in Travis County

Q:
Why did Travis County choose electronic voting?
A:
Travis County’s rapid population growth made it necessary to replace the previously used optical scan system. In addition, Texas and federal laws mandate voting equipment meet the requirements designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, requiring states to adopt accessible voting and the right of every citizen to cast a private ballot by 2006. Travis County selected the eSlate Electronic Voting System because it has three qualities that are essential to such a system. It is accurate, secure, and accessible to all voters, even those who are blind or have limited mobility.

Q:
How was the eSlate system chosen?
A:
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir began researching new systems in early 1999. As a first step, Ms. DeBeauvoir created an election equipment task force comprised of citizens versed in elections and technology. Together, they spent the next two years reviewing new voting systems, developing critical elements of the county’s Request for Proposals, critiquing submitted proposals, interviewing potential vendors, testing equipment, and ultimately choosing the system that best fit the needs of Travis County voters. As a result of their work, the county determined that the eSlate system is both the best system and the best value for Travis County voters.
Read the Travis County Elections Study Group Report PDF. (This file requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to view or print. The reader can be downloaded free from Adobe .)

Q:
How much did the new system cost?
A:
Travis County initially invested $5 million on voting equipment and long-term support services provided by Hart InterCivic, an Austin-based supplier of electronic voting systems. Part of the start-up cost also included an extensive voter outreach and education campaign targeting all Travis County voters.


About eSlate

Q:
How is this electronic voting system more secure than other electronic voting systems?
A:
The eSlate system is distinct from other voting systems in ways that increase the security and accuracy, including:

  • Allows county election officials rather than the vendor to program the ballot
  • Uses touch-button technology that avoids touch-screen calibration problems
  • Relies on triple redundancy of data storage and the ability to do electronic and paper audits
  • Includes battery back-up on all voting equipment
  • Captures images of each ballot cast so that electronic or manual recounts can be conducted
  • Is not connected to the Internet or an intranet — there are no external communication pathways.

Q:
How does the new system work?
A:
There are two steps a voter must go through before receiving a ballot. The voter first presents a voter registration card or proper ID to the election judge and signs a signature roster. Once the voter is qualified, the election judge gives the voter a randomly generated four-digit access code. This code determines which ballot style the voter should receive, based on his or her home precinct. The voter can then proceed to any available booth, select the desired language, and enter the code. The voter uses the SELECT wheel to navigate through the ballot and the ENTER button to make selections on the ballot. The NEXT and PREVIOUS buttons move the voter between pages of the ballot. After the voter has viewed the ballot summary page and is satisfied, the voter pushes the CAST BALLOT button and sees the waving American flag.

Q:
What are the components of the new system?
A:
The eSlate voting system found at each polling location consists of three components: the Judge’s Booth Controller, or JBC, which is analogous to the metal ballot box, the eSlate, which is analogous to a paper ballot and the Disabled Access Unit, or DAU. The DAU allows Travis County voters with disabilities to cast secret ballots, some for the first time, with the assistance of features on that unit. DAU units have an audio ballot reader, a lower stance for easy wheelchair accessibility, jelly switch and sip-and-puff connections.


Voting with the eSlate System

Q:
I have never been able to vote without someone helping me. Will someone be there to help me with this new system?
A:
Yes. Election workers always are available to provide assistance. Pressing the oval HELP button will alert an election official that a voter has a question, and the worker then will approach the voting booth.
Voting instructions also are posted in each voting booth.

Q:
Will the ballot still be available in Spanish as well as English?
A:
Yes. The voter selects the language preference before entering the access code, and it will appear in either English or Spanish.

Q:
What if I change my mind or make a mistake after I have pressed the ENTER button?
A:
To change a vote, simply use the wheel to highlight the candidate you want to vote for, and then press ENTER. The earlier vote is erased, and the new vote is recorded. A voter can change any vote at any time up until the CAST BALLOT button is pressed and you see the American flag waving on the screen.

Q:
What happens when the voter pushes the CAST BALLOT button?
A:
When you push the CAST BALLOT button and see the waving American flag, your vote is recorded in three different places - on the eSlate on which you cast your vote and in two distinct memory storage units in the Judge’s Booth Controller. This triple redundancy of data storage ensures that data is secure and that election officials can perform a complete system audit, if necessary. In addition, in the event that a manual recount is required, this voting system allows for a Cast Vote Record to be printed from each vote cast.

Q:
What if I don’t want to vote in a particular race?
A:
You may choose not to vote in any race by scrolling past the race you want to skip. After you have completed your choices on the ballot, a ballot summary screen will appear listing all the choices you have made. It will alert you if you missed voting in any race. On the ballot summary screen, you will see a summary of the votes you have cast, and any skipped races will be noted with "No Selection" highlighted in red. You can either go back and vote in the skipped race, or press the CAST BALLOT button and submit your ballot with no votes in the races you intentionally skipped.

Q:
What if I accidentally vote twice in a race? Will my vote be discarded?
A:
You cannot vote twice. In each race on the ballot, only one or no selection can be made. The system is programmed to prevent “overvoting,” which occurs when someone accidentally marks more than the permitted number of issues or candidates in a race.

Q:
How does eSlate handle write-in votes?
A:
The voter must first select “Write-in,” then the voters will see a screen where the alphabet is laid out. The voter then turns the wheel to highlight and presses ENTER for each letter needed to spell out the candidate’s name. To finalize the write-in, the voter turns the wheel to highlight “accept,” and presses the ENTER button. As with any other selection, a voter may change a vote at any time.

Q:
Can you vote a straight party ticket and then make an exception on one or more races?
A:
Yes. Straight party is an option for the general election—not for primary elections. However, even when a voter selects the straight party option, the voter may go to any individual contest and change the mark from the straight party selection to the candidate of their choice.


Recount and Privacy Issues

Q:
What if a recount is necessary?
A:
Travis County’s voting system provides election officials with a Cast Vote Record that shows what votes were cast on each voting device. The system provides a paper audit trail, which can be hand tallied. The Cast Vote Record provides a means of recounting votes and ensuring that results are accurate.

Q:
Who has access to Judge’s Booth Controllers during voting?
A:
Only election workers have access to the Judge’s Booth Controller, or JBC, during voting. Before the JBCs are issued to the election poll workers, a seal is placed on the JBC to prevent any tampering or access to the system. A bar-coded seal is assigned to each specific JBC and, to ensure the original seal remains intact throughout the voting period, detailed records and multiple audits are performed.

Q:
Who has access to the Judge’s Booth Controllers after the polls close?
A:
Once the polls close on election day, election judges deliver the JBCs to a receiving substation. At the receiving substation, election officials receive and transfer the JBC materials to Travis County sheriff deputies who deliver them to the central counting station where the votes are then tallied. At the receiving substation, the election judges also deliver their precinct combination forms, voter registration lists, and election supplies which are used as a manual verification of the electronic record.

Q:
Are all votes manually audited after election day?
A:
Signature Verification is one of the audits that are conducted following election day. Signature Verification is a manual audit performed by verifying the number of votes cast on each JBC with the number of voters’ signatures on the corresponding precinct combination form. This process is done daily during early voting for each location and immediately following election day for each precinct.

Q:
How can we be sure this system is working as it should be?
A:
Before any vote is cast, there is a process of testing the machines to be sure they are working as expected. This process, known as logic and accuracy testing, allows election officials to prove votes are counted exactly as they are cast. These tests are conducted by Travis County election officials and are open to the public. The tests are conducted before each early voting period and election day.

Q:
How do I know that the way the electronic voting system recorded my vote is the same way I cast my vote?
A:
After you have completed your choices on the ballot, a ballot summary screen will appear listing all the choices you have made and letting you know if you missed voting in any race. The ballot summary screen is the safeguard that allows voters to carefully review all selections before casting the final CAST BALLOT button. From this screen, you still can make changes. When you are finished reviewing your ballot, simply press the red CAST BALLOT button to put your ballot into the electronic ballot box.

Q:
How do I know my votes are private, and that there is not a database in a computer somewhere that records how I have voted?
A:
There is no way for the system to connect your vote to you. The eSlate is not connected to the manual sign-in process. You will be given a randomly generated four-digit access code tied to the particular ballot style for the precinct you live in. The access code is not associated with your name. When you vote, there is no identifying information recorded with your vote.

Q:
If the power fails, or if there is some other computer failure, will my vote be lost?
A:
No, your vote cannot be lost once you have pressed the CAST BALLOT button. Your votes are stored in three separate places in the voting system. In the unlikely event of a system or power failure, all data is protected through the battery back-up in each voting device.

Q:
Some computer experts claim that there is no way to audit the vote without a paper trail? Does this system have paper backup?
A:
This system provides voters with confidence that their vote will be counted as they intended. First, the voting device provides each voter with a summary of all votes, alerting the voter of any skipped races, and allowing the voter to make changes. The voter has visual confirmation that the vote was cast exactly as intended. To ensure the votes are recorded correctly, the system is publicly tested and validated before, during, after each election to ensure that votes are counted and reported as they are cast. There are many security features designed to test procedures, equipment and software. Finally, the system can print out all Cast Vote Records should that be required for a recount.

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