Troubles with electronic voting machines in a key county of an important swing state have many voters and officials worried about the reliability of the coming 2024 elections.
According to reports, voters in Northampton County in Pennsylvania have now experienced at least two elections when voting machines glitched on them, and many are calling for answers ahead of the contentious 2024 elections.
The machines reportedly glitched with fraudulent votes in a 2019 race for judge in the county, and while that experience did not become a big deal for many, the problem cropped up again this year. Now, with two glitches in only a few years, county officials are scrambling to reassure voters that the machines are still secure and reliable, Politico reported.
“We’re at the peak of mistrust of one another, but until that subsides, counties like ours need to be nearly perfect, and I think this system allows us to do that,” County Executive Lamont McClure stated.
For his part, Al Schmidt, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, attempted to pivot on the machine glitches to claim that the detractors are the problem, not the machines.
“The broader concern is that an incident like this would be misused to undermine confidence in our electoral process,” Schmidt told Politico.
Politico went on to note that the 2019 election was the first year Northampton County rolled out the touchscreen machines made by Election Systems & Software. The rollout, though, was troubled when votes for a Democratic candidate for judge were seriously undercounted.
There were also problems in a local election for judges in Nov. 7 of this year when voters reported that the paper printout of their votes did not match what they chose on the touchscreen machine. Apparently, the machines switched some votes to a different candidate on the paper printout of the ballot.
Despite these problems, McClure claimed that there are more than enough safeguards built into the machines.
“One of the things I’ve learned through ‘19 and ‘23 is that the machines that we have have a great deal of redundancy built in,” he stated.
Despite McClure’s assurances, though, voters, poll workers, and election security watchers said that the problems seen now in two recent elections had caused a lot of confusion on Nov. 7 and the issue has undermined trust residents of Northampton County have in the Election Systems & Software systems.
“Since 2019, the theory has been well, that was a big mistake, but we caught it and we’ve implemented new processes to make sure nothing like that would ever happen again,” said the chair of the Northampton County Democratic Party, Matthew Munsey.
“I don’t know how we can restore trust with these machines,” he added.
McClure countered the concerns with his claim that the vote switching was an error programmed into the machines by an ES&S employee when testing the machines ahead of the election.
But voters say that when the glitch in 2019 occurred — which county officials also claimed was an “employee error” — they were told not to worry about it because the paper ballots were recording the real vote when the touchscreen seemed to show something different. But this year, the issue was the mirror reverse of the 2019 problem, yet they are still being told not to worry about it.
“In 2019, when the issues came up with the touchscreens, we were told, ‘Don’t worry about it. The cards are recording the votes,'” said Northampton County Republican Committee Chair Glenn Geissinger. “OK, you’re telling me now, in 2023, ‘Don’t worry about what’s printed on the card?'”
County officials also tried to allay fears by noting that the problem was quickly discovered and resolved, so the issue was isolated and had no chance to affect the outcome of the election. But distrust of the machines abounds.
“They were saying, ‘Don’t trust the thing that’s supposed to validate your ballot,'” Northampton poll worker John Walker told Politico. “That doesn’t instill confidence in the system at a time when it has never been more important to do so.”
Calls for change are also being issued by political parties, elected officials, and activist groups. Democrat and Republican officials are calling for the county to dump the machines and other groups are calling for a more thorough backup system to be devised and implemented before the 2024 elections.
Yet McClure and other officials insist there is nothing seriously wrong with the machines or their backup procedures. And Schmidt has waived off the issues in Northampton, saying, “No voting system is immune to human error.”
Ultimately, many are not mollified by the assurances of state and county officials. Kevin Skoglund, president and chief technologist of Citizens for Better Elections, had a typical reaction by finding the whole situation to be exasperating. “Our concerns kept getting dismissed by people,” he said.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.