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About That “Flipping” Vote—What You Should Know

There has been a rash of reports of “vote flipping” in early voting states…

October 29, 2008

In recent days during early voting, we’ve seen a rash of reports from voters using touch-screen machines who say they pressed the name of one candidate and watched in horror as the screen lit up for another.  This is known as “vote-flipping,” and—for obvious reasons—can be very disconcerting to voters.

There are a few things about vote-flipping that voters should know.  First, just because a vote “flipped” from Obama to McCain (or vice-versa) on one of these machines doesn’t mean someone has taken over the machine and is stealing votes from one candidate to another (in fact, if someone was going to do this, they probably wouldn’t give the voter a clue by showing them what was happening on the screen itself).  Rather, in all likelihood, this is caused by what is referred to as a “calibration” problem.  Touch screen machines are calibrated in advance so that when a voter presses on the screen, the machine can interpret it as a vote for a particular candidate.  Particularly after a few hours of voting, the calibration on these machines can slip—or they may not have been properly calibrated in the first place.

Fixing the calibration on a machine should be easy.  So the first thing you should do if you notice your vote has flipped is to immediately call over a poll worker.  You should do this even if you managed to “fix” your vote with a second touch.  That’s because if it happened to you, it’s likely to happen to a voter that follows you.  Don’t let the poll worker leave until you are satisfied that all of your choices have been accurately recorded by the machine.  If you are concerned that the machine can’t accurately record your vote, ask to use another one if that’s an option.

Second, regardless of whether you noticed any flipping, make sure you review your choices very carefully—this includes looking over the “review screen” that appears after you’ve made all of your selections, to make sure that every vote was accurately recorded.  And if there is a paper trail on your machine, look at that too—to make sure the choices on the paper are correct.  In most states, if authorities discover that the paper and machine show different choices, it is the paper record that will be used.

logoFinally, after you’ve finished voting, call the Election Protection Hotline to let them know about the vote flipping problem.  Their number is 1–866-OUR-VOTE.  If we’re aware that vote flipping is a big problem in a particular jurisdiction, we can help to try and solve the problem.

Update: Over the last two days, the Brennan Center, inconjuction with Verified Voting and Common Cause, sent letters to every Secretary of State with touch screen machines, providing best practices for dealing with vote flipping.