WASHINGTON—When Pennsylvania holds primary elections on June 2, some election security advocates will be watching closely to see if more than 2,000 new voting machines acquired last year by Philadelphia and two other counties perform without glitches.
Philadelphia and Northampton counties first used the new “ExpressVote XL” machines in last Novembers local elections and will deploy them again in the presidential nominating contests and local races. A third county, Cumberland, will use the machines for the first time.
Their first widespread use in 2019 in Pennsylvania was marred by miscounted vote tallies in Northampton, a politically divided county in eastern Pennsylvania. Some ExpressVote XL machines incorrectly recorded votes for several candidates in the November election, prompting the county to count backup paper receipts to identify the correct winners, according to Maudeania Hornik, chair of the Northampton Election Commission.
Some of Northamptons 320 machines “were configured improperly at our factory prior to delivery to Northampton County,” the maker of the ExpressVote XL equipment said during a December press conference. The manufacturer told the county as many as 30 percent of the machines were affected, Hornik said.
Problems with at least 366 ExpressVote XL machines also arose in Philadelphia, according to public records exclusively obtained by Reuters. The city last year replaced its old voting equipment with a new fleet of 3,750 ExpressVote XL machines. Reuters couldnt ascertain how many of those machines were deployed in the November 2019 election there.
Philadelphia is home to 20 percent of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state that could determine who wins the presidency in November.
Poll workers and technicians reported issues with the new machines at more than 40 percent of polling locations in Philadelphia during last Novembers election, according to the records reviewed by Reuters. Problems included touchscreens that were hypersensitive or that froze; paper voting receipts getting jammed in the machines; and panels opening on some machines to expose the equipments electronic controls, the records show.
Katina Granger, a spokeswoman for the ExpressVote XLs manufacturer, ES&S, said the company was “wholly confident” in the machines, and that it was “simply inaccurate” for anyone to imply there were widespread issues with the ExpressVote XL.
The machines face a big test. After Pennsylvania postponed its 2020 primary, originally scheduled for April due to COVID-19 pandemic fears, Philadelphia reduced its in-person polling sites to 190 locations, down from more than 800 that would typically be operating. Those sites are more concentrated in neighborhoods dominated by low-income and minority voters, U.S. Census data show. Pennsylvania allows residents to vote by mail for any reason, but just 20 percent of Philadelphias electorate requested absentee ballots for the contest.
Philadelphia, Northampton, and Cumberland, in central Pennsylvania, have yet to announce if the machines will also be used in Novembers presidential election. Counties typically avoid switching voting systems in major election years.
Reuters reviewed records of 605 phone calls from Philadelphia poll workers who reported problems with the ExpressVote XL machines last November to an Election Day technical helpline run by the city. Reuters also spoke with 13 poll workers and voters who said they experienced some of those issues firsthand.
Reuters received copies of the call records—known as “trouble cards”—from four Philadelphia voters, two of whom are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit demanding Pennsylvania halt the use of the machines. The case, which was brought by two nonpartisan election integrity groups and several voters, is currently pending in a Pennsylvania state court.
Philadelphia Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio made the records available to voters in accordance with a law that allows Pennsylvania voters to view and copy such information.
When asked for comment about the trouble cards, Custodio said there were fewer and less serious calls about the ExpressVote XL machines in November 2019 than there had been about the citys previous machines in past elections. Custodio didnt address the number of trouble cards, or provide comparable totals of trouble cards from previous elections.
In an email to Reuters, he called the citys experience with the new voting equipment “overwhelmingly positive,” and also said the news agency had engaged in “bias (sic) fact-gathering” by obtaining copies of some records from the two voters who are plaintiffs in the state lawsuit. Reuters requested the records under Pennsylvanias right-to-know law.
Philadelphias deputy solicitor turned down that request, citing a state law that said the records “may be inspected and copied by any qualified elector of the county,” meaning Pennsylvania voters. Reuters then asked some voters to copy and share them with the news agency, four of whom did so.
Matthew Lilly, president of a company that serviced the old machines in Philadelphia that were replaced by the ExpressVote XLs, disputed Custodios assertion that previous elections generated more machine issues. Lilly said that in his two decades working with the city, he didnt recall any election that resulted in more than 500 trouble cards.
Reuters couldnt independently confirm how many trouble cards Philadelphias voting machines typically generated in previous elections.
ES&S spokeswoman Granger said “additional quality control and training have been instituted” for the Pennsylvania machines since November.
Based in Omaha, Nebraska, ES&S is one of the largest election-machine manufacturers in the United States. The company released the ExpressVote XL in 2018. The machine was a successor to its earlier ExpressVote model that is used by 1,838 counties around the country.
When voting on an ExpressVote XL machine, voters insert a blank page into the machine and make their choices by tapping an interactive screen. The machine then prints a receipt Read More From Source