In 2019, same machines recorded ZERO votes for some candidates
By Brad Friedman on 11/7/2023, 11:46am PT  

Unfortunately, this "programming error" being reported during today's off-year elections in Pennsylvania is hardly the first time that these terrible touchscreen voting systems made by ES&S and shamefully still used in Northampton County --- just outside of Philly --- have failed during a critical election day.

As reported this morning by the Lehigh Valley News...

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A flaw in Northampton County's voting machines forced multiple polling places to turn to provisional ballots Tuesday morning.

A programming error with the county's ES&S ExpressVote XL machines is causing votes to flip when voters split their votes on [statewide] retention questions for Superior Court judges Jack Panella and Victor P. Stabile. Panella, of Palmer Township, is a Democrat while Stabile is a former chair of the Cumberland County Republican Committee.

If a voter cast a "Yes" vote for one of the incumbents, but a "No" vote for the other, the votes come out flipped, Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure said.

McClure characterized the error as relatively minor and stressed all votes will be counted. But he expressed his frustration that the mistake wasn't caught during pre-election testing.

"I'm livid at the election folks and ES&S," McClure said.

This is only "relatively minor" for those who continue to support using unverifiable, computerized touchscreen voting systems rather than simple, verifiable, hand-marked paper ballots, which appear to have saved the day here (hopefully), in any case... staff found poll workers across the county pulled their machines off-line and relied on provisional ballots when the error was discovered in the early hours after voting precincts opened..
But Northampton County Judge Abe Kassis ruled Tuesday morning that the county could continue to use the machines, McClure said. In cases where the error would pop up for the retention question, the county would flip the results during the post-election canvass. This followed a recommendation by the Pennsylvania Department of State, McClure said. It is improper for election officials to be "flip[ping]" any results after an election. I'm not even sure how anyone would know in which direction the votes should be flipped, at least if I'm understanding Lehigh Valley News' reporting here (I'll try to look a bit deeper into this and update here if I can learn anything more.)

As the outlet notes, unfortunately, this is not the first time Northampton has experienced disasters with their new touchscreen systems from ES&S...

The county purchased the machines ahead of the 2019 municipal general election as part of a statewide election security update. But in their first action, the county found many of the oversized touchscreens were not properly calibrated, making it tricky to select the desired candidate in some instances.

Later in the evening, election officials discovered a bigger problem. After tallying electronic results from multiple precincts, Kassis – then a county judge candidate – had no votes in his campaign for county judge - a statistical impossibility. Further investigation determined that his electronic votes were not being saved. The election was salvaged because the print receipts correctly recorded the votes, and Kassis went on to win a spot on the bench.

Yup. Back in 2019, these same systems, in some cases, registered ZERO votes for certain candidates. As we reported at the time...

In the critical battleground state of PA, there were all kinds of problems with the new ES&S ExpressVote XL systems deployed for the first time to Northampton County (where the systems were said to be operating incredibly slowly and results were reported as 0 for some candidates, as later confirmed by the County) and in Philadelphia, where candidate names were missing and many of the machines reportedly refused to work at all. (But this will all be fine by 2020, right?)

As you may have heard. There were, in fact, some problems in 2020. At the very least, with confidence in these particular voting systems, which should have been replaced long ago with verifiable hand-marked paper ballots.

Those "receipts" that are reported today as saving the results of the 2019 fiasco may or may not have been verified accurately --- or at all --- by the voters who used the touchscreens to vote.

Once again today, the officials who decided to use these machines in the first place --- like Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure --- are downplaying the problems with them, and blaming everyone but themselves, as Lehigh Valley News notes today [emphasis mine]...

McClure, who advocated for the county purchasing the machines, said Tuesday he was not yet looking to move on from the machines. It’s common for counties to encounter hiccups on Election Day, he said.

He said the problem should have been caught by ES&S or county officials during logic and accuracy testing - a pre-election stress test of the machines and software. But those tests did not split the votes on the Superior Court retention questions - the trials used all “Yes” or all “No” votes, he said.

Our election officials on this one relatively minor issue failed, and so did ES&S,” he said. “I'm not sure it means you scrap the whole system.”

Yes, Mr. McClure. It means you should "scrap the whole system". You should have already listened to voting system experts and done so after the same systems failed voters so tremendously in 2019, just after you wasted tax payer money on them in the first place.

* * *

UPDATE: More from Lehigh Valley Live, suggesting the problem appears to be on the computer print-out, while the screen, purportedly, shows the correct vote. If so, this is potentially an even bigger problem than it first appeared.

I'm not sure if this story is accurately reporting what is actually happening here. It claims that the "digital" record is accurate, while the paper printout isn't. But, there is no way to know what the computers are actually recording, despite what is shown to voters on the screen.

Nonetheless, here's what the outlet is reporting this afternoon. [Emphasis mine]...

The problem doesn’t crop up if someone votes “yes” to retain both judges or “no” to retain both judges. And the problem affects the paper record printed out by the machines. The digital tally is correct, the judge was told by the Democratic state committee.
Michael Lilly said he noticed the problem when he was the sixth person to vote in his Pen Argyl precinct.

"On the machine, it registered correctly. But when you looked at the paper ballot, the one I put a yes for was a no, the one I put a no for was a yes," he told He informed a poll worker, who helped cancel his votes on the machine. Lilly filled out a provisional ballot instead.

Remember, those computer printouts are what supporters of this type of touchscreen Ballot Marking Device (BMD) cite as the true record of the voters vote, even though studies show that most voters don't accurately check those printouts, if they bother to check them at all.

* * *
Please support The BRAD BLOG's fiercely independent, award-winning coverage of your electoral system, as available from no other media outlet in the nation, with a much-needed DONATION to help us keep going!

Share article...