Calling her theories “daft,” “ill-considered,” and “pointless,” a federal judge in Philadelphia on Wednesday rejected a push from former Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein to decertify Philadelphia’s new voting machines in advance of the June 2 primary over concerns they could be vulnerable to hacking.
In an opinion, dripping with disdain for the her legal case, U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond found there was “no credible evidence” to support Stein’s concerns and that granting her request would effectively disenfranchise Philadelphia voters, as there would be no way to replace the machines with new ones in time for the election.
“The Commonwealth and the city have expended considerable resources to demonstrate that Dr. Stein has based her motion on absolutely nothing,” he wrote.
“Yet,” he added, her “daft theories … will undoubtedly shake the belief of some in their government because Stein has convinced them that voting integrity is at risk in Pennsylvania. This is certainly the most unfortunate consequence of Stein’s pointless motion.”
In response, Nick Custodio, the deputy city commissioner who has been leading efforts to implement the new system, said in a statement: “I can think of no better way to respond than with Judge Diamond’s own words."
The decision from Diamond, a judge known for his at times biting rulings, comes five months after Stein first sought to have roughly 4,000 voting machines Philadelphia bought last year decertified, saying they violated the terms of a 2018 settlement she reached with Pennsylvania’s Department of State.
Stein called the judge’s ruling “bizarrely-written” and a "disservice to the people of Pennsylvania in a statement Wednesday. Still, she credited her legal push and the questions she raised about the machines’ reliability, cost and ability to accurately verify votes with influencing decisions in other counties to choose different voting systems.
“Our intent from the beginning has been to help Pennsylvanians get a voting system they can trust,” she wrote. “The movement for election integrity is gaining strength in Pennsylvania. This decision is not going to stop it.”
Stein sued the state in 2016, seeking a recount and forensic audit of all ballots in Pennsylvania after Donald Trump’s victory. She argued that the state’s electronic voting machines were vulnerable to remote interference and that without a paper trail of ballots, there was no way to know whether the election had been compromised. (Stein, an activist and physician from Massachusetts, received less than 1% of votes in the state.)
Diamond rejected her recount push then. But she and state voting officials reached a settlement in 2018 that required replacing the electronic voting machines that many Pennsylvania counties had relied upon for years with hybrids also capable of producing a voter-verifiable, auditable paper trail — something the state had already announced plans to do.
Her “litigation appears to have created a single benefit that would not otherwise have been conferred:” Diamond tartly noted in his opinion Wednesday, “the payment of $150,000 to Stein’s lawyers.”
As part of his 2018 order, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all counties in the state to replace their voting machines in time for the 2020 presidential election, requiring paper records. In addition to being less secure than other options, experts widely agree, electronic-only voting systems make it difficult to flag discrepancies or challenge election results because the votes cannot be manually recounted or audited.
Philadelphia spent $29 million last year to purchase 3,750 ExpressVoteXL machines as part of the state’s transition and had already put them to use in elections.
But in November, Stein pressed the court to find the state in violation of the 2018 agreement, arguing that the new machines weren’t secure enough and that the paper trail they produced was less than clear, echoing concerns expressed by other city and state watchdogs.
Diamond, in his opinion Wednesday, said he personally examined the ExpressVoteXL machines earlier this year during hearings that featured testimony from Department of State officials and voting experts, and found them “reliable and easy to use.”
To decertify them now, he said, would set-off a needless, last-minute scramble to find replacements, making it impossible for Philadelphia to participate in the 2020 presidential election.