Most of the time the democratic process has a certain amount of elasticity created by relatively large margins of victory which allows small mistakes and irregularities to be overlooked as not really making a difference in the outcome of an election. But when a vote is extremely close, problems which might normally be tolerated can become critical factors in disenfranchising voters. In a democracy there is no greater civil crime than rendering an individual's vote meaningless.
This effect has been demonstrated graphically in the developments in the race for Texas State House of Representatives District 48. In the initial vote incumbent Democrat Donna Howard won by a margin of only 16 votes against Republican challenger Dan Neil in a race with over 50,000 votes cast. That small margin of victory led to a recount and it has placed in sharp focus all of the shortcomings of the voting system in Travis County.
With a 16 vote margin every vote has to be counted correctly and every consideration has to be given to protecting the right of voters to have their say in the election. One way of assuring that is a recount, and that's what Dan Neil's campaign initiated this week. That recount has become like turning over a big rock to see all the unpleasant things that live in the darkness beneath it, and what it has revealed about voting in Travis County is not pretty.
The problems start with the attitude in the County Clerk's office, where the same Democratic incumbent has held office for 20 years with little challenge to her authority. She and her staff have become jaded and allowed partisanship to rule their actions. The total lack of accountability or oversight has made them arrogant and complacent and encouraged them to run elections in a way which leaves many openings for abuse and mismanagement.
The regular election voting system in Travis County is deeply flawed. The eSlate voting machines do not track votes or link them to voters in any way and there is no way to verify anything about those votes beyond just carrying out another automated count. Almost any kind of voting fraud is impossible to identify or investigate once it has gotten beyond the precinct level. Everything is reduced to numbers which can never be sourced or researched once they have been processed into the system. Voters have no guarantee that their votes have even been counted beyond their initial encounter with the voting machine. The system offers no transparency and no verification or protections for the rights of the voter.