CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island elections officials are implementing new proofreading protocols for the November election after accessible ExpressVote machines displayed the wrong candidates for some races earlier this year.
The new protocols, approved by the R.I. Board of Elections on Tuesday, are aimed at preventing the mishap from happening again for the general election. Early voting begins on Oct. 19.
Target 12 first reported last month that the ExpressVote machines were displaying candidates from 2018 — rather than 2022 — for several races on the Spanish-language version of the touch-screen ballot machines, including the race for Providence mayor.
The problem was discovered by a Providence voter using the machine during early voting, and the candidate names were fixed prior to the Sept. 13 primary.
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Board of Elections Executive Director Bob Rapoza subsequently disagreed on who was responsible for the mishap. The separate state agencies hold different legal roles in the election — the secretary of state creates and proofs the ballots, while the elections board tests the machines — but had not ironed out new protocols for the ExpressVote machine, which was being used statewide for the first time.
The ExpressVote allows voters with various disabilities to vote independently. (For example, a blind voter can use headphones and a braille remote to make selections.) The candidate names were uploaded into the machine by a private vendor, Elections Systems & Software, which operates out of the Board of Elections in Cranston, where the machines are also located.
While the Board of Elections is responsible for “logic and accuracy testing” of the machines, the vendor said the names of the candidates were not checked during this process ahead of the primary. (Gorbea’s office is currently withholding payments to the vendor.)
According to the new protocols released Wednesday, ES&S has provided the secretary of state’s office with a portal to view “virtual ExpressVote screens” to proofread, a process that is happening now.
In addition, during the logic and accuracy testing of the hundreds of machines that starts Thursday, the board will compare the ExpressVote screens to a printed sample ballot for each race. The Board of Elections will also check that the ballot that prints out of the ExpressVote is accurate.
A Spanish-speaking member of the Board of Elections staff will also do this for the Spanish-language screens.
“With these measures in place, Rhode Island voters can have full confidence casting their ballots utilizing ExpressVote machines,” Rapoza said.
While the machines are legally required for those with disabilities, elections officials have encouraged the general public to use them. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza posted photos using the new machine during early voting in August, before the errors were discovered at that same polling location. (Elorza used the English-language screen, so he did not encounter the Spanish-language screen that would have erroneously shown his own name as a 2018 candidate.)
Elorza later called for the machines to be pulled ahead of the primary election because of the issues, which the Board of Elections declined to do. The old accessible machines, called the AutoMark, were not able to be readied in time for the primary. (The old machines helped the voter mark a regular paper ballot.)
All voters can choose to use a paper ballot or vote on the ExpressVote machines, which will be located at each polling place.
Early voting begins Oct. 19 and Election Day is Nov. 8.