Texans continue voting at a record pace

Live: Tarrant County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips demonstrates how to use the electronic voting machine used at all Tarrant County early voting locations, Wednesday, October 26, 2016.
Live: Tarrant County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips demonstrates how to use the electronic voting machine used at all Tarrant County early voting locations, Wednesday, October 26, 2016. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Voters in Tarrant County and statewide continued turning out to vote early at a heavy pace on Wednesday.

But election officials are offering some advice to all the eager voters: Go slow and steady.

Anyone voting early in Tarrant County this year has to do it on electronic machines — paper ballots are not available until Election Day on Nov. 8. And officials are encountering lots of people having trouble using the Hart InterCivic eSlate machine to cast early ballots.

“Inside each electronic voting booth is instructions on how to use the equipment, including how to vote straight party,” said Frank Phillips, Tarrant County’s election administrator. “Please read the instructions, follow them and you should have no problems.”

In the first two days of early voting, 777,344 voters in the state’s 15 largest counties — including more than 88,000 in Tarrant County — cast ballots in person. Another 191,899 voters sent their ballots in by mail, according to the most recent state election records.

That means a record number of nearly 1 million Texans, almost 10 percent of the state’s registered voters, cast ballots in the first two days of early voting. That’s up from 7.2 percent in 2008 and 7.66 percent in 2012 who cast ballots during the same time period.

Wednesday, another 42,332 Tarrant County voters — more than the 29,000 local voters who headed to polls on the third day of early voting in the past two presidential elections — had cast their ballots in person.

Some local voters worry about having problems casting their vote, after the story of one voter’s complaint about trying to cast a straight-party Republican vote and noticing that the presidential vote flipped to Democrat went viral on social media.

That woman’s issue was resolved before her ballot was cast, but it sparked concerns and a slew of phone calls to Tarrant County elections officials.

“We are all very concerned about the voting machines,” one Fort Worth voter who declined to use her name told the Star-Telegram on Wednesday morning.

Phillips said voters shouldn’t be worried.

Just go slow, read the ballot, be careful — and call over election judges for help if you need to, he said.

Anyone truly worried that they won’t be able to correctly cast their ballot on the early voting machines always has the option of holding off on casting their vote.

“If you want paper ballots, wait for Election Day,” Phillips said. “On that day, there’s a combination of paper and electronic ballots offered.”

Early voting runs through Nov. 4. Election Day is Nov. 8.

The electronic machines

Early voters in Tarrant County are using the Hart InterCivic eSlate machines, the same machines that have been in use for more than a decade here.

After entering a four-digit access code voters receive when checking in, they use a wheel to “select” candidates and an enter button to navigate the ballot.

When all the choices are made, voters will see a summary page, which shows the candidates chosen for each race. Voters have a chance at that point to go back and vote in races they accidentally skipped or where they see any errors.

Signs posted in polling sites note that when a person casts a straight-party vote, the machine automatically gives a vote to all candidates associated with that party. But if a voter tries to “highlight the name of a candidate that has already received a straight-party vote, pressing ENTER again will remove the vote from that candidate and the box to the left of that candidate’s name will be cleared, indicating no vote has been entered for that candidate.”

Election officials say voters should carefully review their ballot — and take as much time needed — before hitting the button to cast their vote.

“If at any time during the process you have any questions, contact one of the election officials there,” Phillips said.

But do it before pressing the “cast ballot” button.

Once that button is pushed, and the ballot is cast, there’s no going back.

Teresa Foster can attest to that.

‘Mistake of a lifetime’

Foster, a 65-year-old Arlington woman, has been looking forward to voting in this year’s election for a long time.

But her voting experience Tuesday at the Southwest Service Center in Arlington was less than what she expected.

She went in and made her choice in the first item, a proposition for a new stadium for the Texas Rangers, and then thought she was moving on to the presidential race and other contests on the ballot.

But she accidentally pressed the “cast ballot button.”

“It made me sick,” Foster said. “I called the election guys over to help me and they were nice and got the election judge. But he said, ‘It’s over. You voted and that’s that.’”

She left the polling site, stunned she had made such an error and returned later in the afternoon to see if there was any way to submit an amended ballot.

I made the mistake of a lifetime.

Teresa Foster, a 65-year-old Arlington voter

She was told no.

“Anybody can make a mistake,” she said. “It was my mistake and I know that. People hit the wrong button all the time.”

“But I made the mistake of a lifetime.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Election Information

To see a sample ballot, go to the Tarrant County elections website.

To ask for a ballot by mail, call the Tarrant County Elections Office at 817-831-8683. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Friday, Oct. 28.

For more information about candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot, go to the Star-Telegram website, www.star-telegram.com, to read the online Voters Guide.

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