Pressley, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry and a background in semiconductor engineering management, noticed numerous election irregularities such as more ballots than voter names as reported during early voting, and she identified repetitive mathematical patterns that called the results into question.
These red flags prompted her request for a recount in January. The ensuing process led to a disturbing revelation that the Travis County paperless electronic voting system may be operating in violation of Texas election law, and, according to court filed documents, it appeared that Travis County may not have employed some of the administrative safeguards designed by the Secretary of State to protect the integrity of the voting process.
“What we discovered is that the very pillars of our Constitution - specifically voting rights and our system of checks and balances - were not being followed regarding electronic voting systems. As we attempted to verify the results, some official election records came up missing,” Pressley said. “The Texas Legislature put in place specific laws that were intended to help ensure the integrity of the voting process, and Texans deserve to know that their votes are counted correctly,” said Pressley.
When Pressley asked Travis County to produce statutorily required “images of ballots cast” from the Hart InterCivic voting machines for the recount, the clerk was unable to produce the ballot images that voters saw in the election booth. Instead, what she received were Cast Vote Records (CVRs), which are computer-generated templates of tabulated votes -- not the statutorily required ballot images required for manual recounts of electronic voting machines.
“CVRs do not contain the legal components of an official Texas ballot, such as the election name and date, each candidate’s name, voting squares, and a unique serial number as defined by the Texas Constitution,” Pressley said. “Without these voter-marked ballot records, how can we conduct a statutorily valid recount?”
Pressley added, “Texans demand transparency in the democratic process, and we must be able to inspect and verify the official records in an election. This case is about ensuring our voting process is accurate, secure and reflects each voter’s intent.”
These election irregularities led Pressley to file the first election contest in Texas challenging that there were tabulation errors, and that official ballot images were not retained to validate the electronic voting results.
Court documents revealed even more problems with her election. First, computer audit logs registered systematic “corruption” errors that occurred when batches of votes were electronically counted. Second, deposition testimony revealed election officers were instructed not to retain backup tapes of the number of electronic votes each candidate received on election day.
Pressley’s lawyers presented key evidence to the district court judge, who ruled against further discovery and dismissed the case. Despite this, Pressley was pleased that Judge Dan Mills made encouraging statements that opened the door for an accelerated appeal with the Third Court.
Pressley is among a growing list of candidates and counties nationwide that are pressing for legally verifiable electronic election records. While Pressley’s election contest and appeal are the first of such kind in Texas, similar cases have been heard in states including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. To date, about 26 states have shifted to voting equipment that uses verifiable paper records.
“We must be able to confirm if computers are accurately recording voters’ intentions. That’s what this case is about,” Pressley said.
Pressley warns that, should current voting practices continue, Texans may suffer the same ill fortune they did with the Texas lottery debacle (and its commission’s early integrity woes) -- a situation Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka aptly described in 1998. He wrote:
"There will be those who say, “I told you so”—that Texas is getting what it deserves for basing its future upon the continuing gullibility of its citizens. But the sudden downturn in the fortunes of the Texas lottery is not simply a case of the public coming belatedly to its senses. The lottery is a victim of the greed and indifference of its own stewards…”
Burka’s excerpt provides an excellent parallel, Pressley said. Her appeal calls for greater transparency, and it challenges officials for cutting corners and failing to adhere to the legislature’s intent in defining official ballots and retaining official election records.
“We must hold our system and officials accountable and correct these issues for the common good and betterment of Texas,” she said.