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Lawsuits Over Voting Machines In Pennsylvania


The presidential election could be chaotic for Pennsylvania. Two separate lawsuits are seeking an immediate ban on a voting machine used by nearly 1 in 5 voters in the swing state. The outcome also might have broader implications. The device is certified in at least half a dozen other states. Emily Previti from member station WITF reports.

EMILY PREVITI, BYLINE: No election is perfect. But in Northampton County, in eastern Pennsylvania last November, their issues went way beyond the typical hiccups. Lines were long at precincts. There were paper jams and ultra-sensitive touch screens on the brand new ExpressVote XL machines.

Robert Evans (ph) waited more than an hour to vote.

ROBERT EVANS: There was a problem with one of the machines. It kept people jamming so - which allowed the line - it's goofy, but it could discourage some people - not me, though. But it could discourage some.

PREVITI: Later it became evident the problems were even more serious.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In some races, like, those in which candidates were cross filed, the votes were not tabulated incorrectly. The race for two judge seats on the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas is one that saw some problems.

PREVITI: In a race with more than 50,000 ballots, just 160 went to the Democratic candidate according to the machines' count. But then a paper ballot recount that took all night showed the Democrat actually got 26,000 votes and ended up winning a seat. The day after the election Northampton County Council met. Councilman Kevin Lott laid into the representatives from the manufacturer, Election Systems and Software.


KEVIN LOTT: Are you prepared to take your machines back if you don't give us the confidence that you can fix this thing? We should not have to pay $2,800,000 for something that does not work.

PREVITI: A month later, ES&S senior VP Adam Carbullido returned to the county to explain what happened. The machines weren't programmed properly, and the company failed to catch the mistake before they shipped. Carbullido also conceded the issue went unnoticed during pre-election testing.


ADAM CARBULLIDO: Had we scrutinized the results during that process better, had ES&S staff advised the county better on how to do that, it would have been caught.

PREVITI: Northampton chose the ExpressVote XL because it resembles the county's old machines, only with a paper backup. As part of one of the ongoing lawsuits, all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties were ordered to buy paper-based voting systems by the end of last year. Many counties acted sooner to avoid a roll out during a presidential election and to give voters time to adjust. Election Judge Jill Piperata ran Northampton's final voter demonstration in the backroom of a small community building in Easton.

JILL PIPERATA: You're going to step into the secure booth. You're going to put your paper in the feeder. And that is going to start the process.

PREVITI: When the machine has malfunctioned on Election Day, ES&S pledged to step up its quality control. But the company won't provide details even now about what actions have been taken. And it's adamant what happened in Northampton is unrelated to design and security flaws alleged in the two lawsuits. Chris Deluzio is the policy director at Pitt Cyber, a cybersecurity think tank. He says officials all over the country should be paying attention to these court cases.

CHRIS DELUZIO: This litigation, the claims around the machine, it's likely to repeat itself elsewhere as there's more and more scrutiny of ballot marketing devices and some of the difficulties we've seen and had reported on voters verifying their votes.

PREVITI: If either case prevails, counties could be forced to get new machines in place within just a couple months or run their elections on paper backup ballots required by state law. One case is scheduled for a hearing in Harrisburg on Thursday. The other is expected to go to federal court in Philadelphia on February 18.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Previti.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Previti is WITF's reporter for Keystone Crossroads, a statewide public media collaboration focused on issues facing Pennsylvania's cities.
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