Calibration at fault for votes changing at Guilford County site

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A report of a votes mysteriously changing from Democrat to Republican at an early-voting site in Guilford County turns out to be a matter of machine calibration, election officials say.

Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel posted on the Greater Greensboro Politics Facebook page on Tuesday morning that he experienced difficulties while voting at the Leonard Recreation Center site in Greensboro.

“Please review your ballot carefully,” Guttman wrote in the post, which was rapidly shared on social media. “I voted this morning in Guilford County and found that five of my votes have been randomly changed. I’ve been voting for 48 years and have never seen anything like this. It is very serious!”

Guttman, who had voted for Democratic candidates says that some of his picks had been changed to Republican ones.

“After I voted, I reviewed my ballot and there was one mistake,” he said. “I thought maybe it was because I have chubby fingers.”

After experiencing difficulties, Guttman said he called over a poll worker, who eventually shut down the machine after ensuring that the votes were properly recorded.

After initially expressing suspicion, Guttman said he has concluded that a mechanical issue was at fault.

“It’s definitely a problem with the calibration,” Guttman said. “On the touchscreen, it’s like if I touched one person’s name, the name below it was being picked.”

Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said that while the issue is serious, it’s not widespread.

“This is not an issue to be minimized, but we’re not getting a lot of first-person accounts,” he said. “What I’m hearing is the same couple of stories.”

Collicutt said that it’s just an issue of older technology and that voters shouldn’t be worried that their votes are being changed after-the-fact. He says voters have the chance to see who they picked by the green check that comes up while voting, at the end of voting, and on the paper scroll that transcribes the votes in real time. So far, 35,000 people have taken advantage of early voting in Guilford County.

“It’s not behind the scenes where the voter can’t see it,” Collicutt said.

All of Guilford County’s machines, which were bought in 2006, are Direct Record Electronic machines, or a touchscreen that allows voters to make their selections on the screen and has a RealTime Audit Log next to it.

Collicutt said that after 2000 election in which hanging chads or punch card votes were miscounted, the county upgraded to new machines. He said that while a few people like Guttman have expressed concern over the touchscreen machines, they have some benefits like uniform marking (which can be an issue with paper ballots),  and opportunities to alert voters if they missed a section. Also, there’s no way to overvote with the machines, and the systems can be audio-enabled.

Guilford County’s voting machines are due for replacement.

House Bill 836, which was signed in 2015, requires all of the touchscreen machines to be replaced by those that use or produce a paper ballot by December 2019, before the November 2020 presidential election. A 2013 note by the Fiscal Research Division of the General Assembly estimated that the updates will cost more than $10 million.

In the meantime, Collicutt said voters shouldn’t worry about their votes being stolen.

“Instead of being worried, if you see the green check, feel confident in that,” Collicutt said.

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