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Pennsylvania Defends Voting Machines Blamed In Undercount

Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration asked a federal court Thursday to reject a challenge to its certification of voting machines bought by Philadelphia and two other Pennsylvania counties, while the machine's maker accepted responsibility for problems that led to badly undercounted returns in a judicial race last month.

In a federal court filing, Wolf's administration said the plaintiffs, former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and several supporters, knew Pennsylvania was about to certify the ExpressVote XL touchscreen system when the sides settled the election-security lawsuit.

"Many months had passed” before the plaintiffs objected to the certification of the machines, made by Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software, lawyers for the Wolf administration said in the filing.

The settlement agreement’s terms are clear and the ExpressVote XL complies with them, they wrote.

The court fight casts doubt onto how 17% of Pennsylvania’s registered voters will cast ballots in the April 28 primary election, as well as next November, when the state is expected to be one of the nation’s premier presidential battlegrounds.

The initial lawsuit, filed after 2016’s presidential election, had accused Pennsylvania of violating the constitutional rights of voters because its thousands of electronic voting machines were susceptible to hacking and barriers to a recount were pervasive.

The plaintiffs say certifying the ExpressVote XL violates the settlement agreement, in part because the machine does not meet the agreement’s requirements “that every Pennsylvania voter in 2020 uses a voter-verifiable paper ballot.”

For one, the ExpressVote XL counts votes by counting machine-printed bar codes on paper, a format that is neither readable nor verifiable by an individual voter, they wrote in court papers. Second, the ExpressVote XL does not use a “paper ballot” and relies on software to record the voter’s choice, they wrote.

In Northampton County, ES&S acknowledged in a news conference Thursday that incorrect results in last month's election there resulted from human errors in formatting the ballot. Ultimately, election workers counted the vote on paper ballots.

The company’s senior vice-president of product development, Adam Carbullido, said the company had over 4,000 of the ExpressVote XL in use that day and did not see those problems elsewhere.

However, the organization Protect Our Vote Philly said it found plenty of problems with the machines' touchscreens in last month's election in Philadelphia, many of them similar to complaints in Northampton County.