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Texas lawmakers mulling addition of paper backups to voting machines

Amid concerns about "rigged" voting machines, both Gov. Greg Abbott and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst have expressed interest in legislation to add paper trail backups to the state's electronic voting machines.

An election judge in south Texas tests a voting machine for accuracy after the end of voting hours on Oct. 26, 2016.

Following repeated allegations by Republican Donald Trump that the election may be rigged to ensure a win for Democrat Hillary Clinton, Texas lawmakers are actively considering ways to boost confidence in the state's elections during next year's legislative session.

Among the ideas drawing interest: adding paper trail backups to thousands of electronic voting machines.

The idea was brought up in a tweet Saturday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

"That's a great idea & we are considering it as an election reform measure. Election integrity is essential," Abbott tweeted in response to a voter who asked about printed proof of how he cast his ballot. 

Over the past decade, several Texas lawmakers have filed bills to require paper trails on electronic voting machines. The proposals often include adding a printer in a sealed case to the state's electronic voting machines so voters could check their votes against the receipt. The paper trail could be consulted in the event of a recount. 

During the 2007 legislative session, interest in the idea stalled following estimates that adding the printers to all of the state's voting machines could cost $40 million to $50 million, according to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article from the time.

One of the 2007 bills was authored by then-state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. Now a state senator, Kolkhorst said she may reintroduce her previous legislation.

"I agree with Governor Abbott's call for election reform," Kolkhorst said Tuesday in an emailed statement. "I have personally spoken with his office about re-introducing my legislation from 2007 to strengthen ballot integrity by requiring a paper record be printed of a person's vote on an electronic voting machine. Texans have the right to inspect and verify that their vote was accurately recorded."

Abbott spokesman John Wittman said the governor will be open to election reform ideas in the next session. 

“The governor believes the Legislature should consider all options to increase voter integrity at the ballot box," Wittman said.

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office, which oversees elections, said adding paper trail backups to voting machines wouldn't be something her office could decide to do on its own.

"We will follow the will of the Legislature and the Governor on any changes related to voting machine requirements in Texas," Pierce said in an emailed statement to the Tribune.

The move toward election reform comes amid an election season in which Texans have expressed concerns about election rigging and voter fraud. Last week, Trump highlighted reports of voting machines in Texas changing votes for president from voters casting straight-ticket ballots. Those reports, however, have been largely debunked by election officials, who have stated that alleged instances of "vote flipping" were the result of user error.

Abbott echoed that defense Saturday morning when he responded to a tweet that included an image of the voting machine from an unidentified Houston voter. The voter claimed to have tried to cast a straight-ticket Republican ballot, only to find the machine showed no selection for president. In response, Abbott tweeted: "This happens when voting straight ticket & then click for Trump. Vote straight ticket with no more clicks, or click for each candidate."

Pierce said the Secretary of State's office has received reports concerning rumors that some voting machines may be changing candidate selections. Her office is actively monitoring the situation but has yet to receive any verified reports.

Secretary of State Carlos Cascos encouraged voters in a Facebook post last week to carefully look over their confirmation screens before casting ballots on an electronic voting machine. In a similar post, Abbott told Texans "if you select a straight-party vote but then highlight the name of a candidate and press ENTER, you could remove the selection for that candidate."

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