Voting machines in Harris County will be new for many, but officials say they are prepared to deal with any issues

HARRIS COUNTY – It is that time of the year again. Halloween decorations are back out on the front lawn, but keep in mind this is one of those years when the other lawn decorations are also prominently displayed.

Those decorations generated interest and questions.

“I’m very concerned about this,” said C.W. MacLeod.

C.W. MacLeod plans to vote in Harris County on the second Tuesday of November, and so does the guy across the street from him, his neighbor Chad Reed.

“I am not concerned at all,” said Reed.

The source of concerns stems from the county’s performance in previous elections and the voting machines in Harris County, which many will be using for the first time.

KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with the two-party chairs for Harris County for their perspectives with election day on the horizon.

“There have been issues with the paper going through, there have been issues with, ‘Did it get read properly.’ And I think, in addition to how the primary was run, all the issues that were here, I think it just adds to the angst over the machines,” said Cindy Siegel, the Chair for Harris County Republicans.

What about the other side of the aisle?

“We don’t hear much about the integrity of the machines. What we do hear though is that it is a different machine than what they are used to from the past, right?,” said Odus Evbagharu, the chair for Harris County Democrats.

In Harris County, 11,203 machines will be rolling out to nearly 99 early voting locations and 782 Election Day locations according to the Harris County Elections Administration. Those machines will be handling one of the longest ballots in the nation. Each page showcases only one race with the most detailed ballot totaling 103 pages.

Clifford Tatum is the new Elections Administrator for Harris County.

“I’m excited about where we are,” said Tatum, who came on board following the massive challenges voters experienced under former Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria during March’s primary.

His sole focus is to ensure every vote gets counted without any issues.

“The machines are doing what they have been designed to do,” said Tatum during a recent interview with KPRC 2 Investigates.

Tatum not only conveyed his confidence in the integrity of voting machines, but also in the testing process.

”So, every machine goes through a calibration process, and as I mentioned, we take the system as a whole through logic and accuracy testing. So, as we calibrate each machine and get it ready for the voting process, we then seal that machine so there’s a control number associated with that machine. We then know where that machine is being deployed out into the field,” said Tatum.

But what are the chances of a voting machine being hacked?

For that answer, KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with New York University’s Justin Cappos, a computer scientist and expert on hacking from finance to elections.

“I think our elections system is quite, quite safe,” said Cappos.

As for his take on Harris County?

“The Harris County machines look like they have really done their homework on almost all the steps one would want,” said Cappos.

Harris County machines also have a paper trail which provides a check and balances system for voters.

“Having a paper ballot that you can later go back and do audits with if you need to that the voter can verify and that drops in, that is really the gold standard,” said Cappos, as the paper serves as a backstop for potential problems.

The reason for this is in case an audit is called in Harris County, voters will have proof of their vote on paper.

Tatum says the machines will be secured and tracked throughout the elections process from early voting to the count, ensuring every vote is tabulated.

“Once they close at 7 p.m. and once the last voters voted in line, those results are brought down to us and there are checks and balances on that, as well,” said Tatum.

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Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.