GRAHAM, N.C. – The Rev. Marcia Isley stepped into a voting booth to cast an early ballot for Hillary Clinton last month. But after making her vote, she said she glanced over her electronic screen to see a checkmark next to Donald Trump’s name.
With early voting under way, a handful of citizens in North Carolina and some other states with electronic ballots say the machines they used have selected candidates they hadn’t clicked. The phenomenon is called “vote flipping.”
The reports have fueled Republican nominee Donald Trump’s allegations that the election will be rigged, even as election officials caution that the flipping stems from user error or a miscalibrated machine.
On Monday, four Democratic Georgia congressmen, including Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, wrote to the Justice Department asking for assistance with reports of vote flipping in their state. The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has opened investigation into vote flipping in five counties after the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported three voters had their vote switched.
A spokesman for Rep. Johnson, Andy Phelan, said the congressman’s office would closely monitor the situation while awaiting a reply from the Justice Department.
After reports of vote flipping in Texas, Trump tweeted about the switches, asking “What’s going on?” Texas election officials’ say that everyone who reported problems was ultimately able to cast a correct vote.
Yet there is little indication the instances of vote-flipping are favoring either candidate.
Clinton supporter Jim Duffett, national coalition director of the National Election Defense Coalition, said most of the flipping that he’s aware of has gone from Clinton to Trump. Congressional aide Phelan said every case he’s heard about involved a vote migrating from Clinton to Trump.
However, Allison Riggs, an attorney on the North Carolina “Election Protection Coalition” operating a hotline for voters, said the coalition received approximately an equal number of calls about switching in both directions.
Riggs said about a quarter of the 50,000 calls coming to an election hotline have involved questions about vote flipping, more than in years past. Much of the concern may come from people hearing about the problem on social media, she said.
Riggs said the coalition is urging polling places to purchase styluses because much of the flipping comes from user error, such as someone clicking the name of a candidate instead of the box next to it.
“Quite frankly, some people with large fingers have a hard time clicking the box without clicking two boxes,” Riggs said.
Isley, the minister who saw her vote switch, said she was able to cast the right vote after using the stylus. Since then, she’s been urging people to check their ballots before pressing submit.
“They’ve got to review their ballot,” said Isley, pastor of St. James AME Church in Oak Ridge, North Carolina. “If they don’t review their ballot, they may be in a catch 22.”
In response to the concerns in North Carolina, the State Board of Elections sent out a news release assuring voters that machines are calibrated daily. The board urged voters to review ballots before submitting.
This presidential election should be the last in which vote flipping is an issue in North Carolina, Riggs said. A new law will phase out electronic-only ballots.
Across the country, however, five other states continue to use solely electronic ballots, many of which were ironically put in to avoid “hanging chads” – the partially-punched voter cards that impacted the 2000 presidential election in Florida when election officials could not figure out which candidate voters had chosen.