Citing election security, advocates seek to force Pa. to reexamine new voting machines
If the machines are decertified, Philly and other cities would need to scramble to select new systems.
Organized by election-security advocates, 200 Pennsylvania voters filed a petition Tuesday seeking to force the Pennsylvania Department of State to reconsider its approval of a touchscreen voting machine selected by Philadelphia and other counties.
Those machines, the ExpressVote XL from election mega-vendor Election Systems & Software (ES&S), have security flaws and do not comply with the state Election Code, the voters say in their petition submitted by certified mail and email Tuesday. It was signed by voters from Allegheny, Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, and Westmoreland Counties.
The law gives voters authority to trigger a new state review of previously certified electronic voting machines.
The petitioners lay out a number of concerns, including the possibility of attackers’ altering votes; ballot secrecy being violated by comparing the chronological stack of ballots to poll books; poll workers inadvertently seeing voters’ choices while helping them; and lack of accessibility for voters with disabilities. They also point to requirements in the Election Code that they say the machine does not meet, such as not using colored paper to distinguish between political parties during a primary election.
An ES&S spokesperson rejected those contentions, saying the ExpressVote XL protects voters’ privacy, is accessible for voters with disabilities, and does not allow manipulation of ballots after they are cast.
The system “has been thoroughly tested and prove to be secure and accurate,” a spokesperson wrote in an email, and “ES&S stands behind the security of the ExpressVote XL 100 percent.”
The effort was led by Citizens for Better Elections and a group of activists, the Protect Our Vote Philly Coalition, which for months urged Philadelphia elections officials not to choose the ExpressVote XL. After city elections administrators chose the system, activists unsuccessfully called for the decision to be overturned. They also lobbied other counties, but ultimately decided they should go to the state, said Kevin Skoglund, chief technologist for Citizens for Better Elections and a leader in the effort to promote hand-marked paper ballots over electronic machines.
“At some point you realize that if the machine is not fit for use by these counties, then it’s not fit for use by any voter in Pennsylvania to be voting on,” Skoglund said Tuesday afternoon. “These problems are severe.”
Skoglund said that advocates have spoken in recent months with officials at the Department of State, including Acting Secretary Kathy Boockvar, but that eventually they felt they needed to file the legal petition.
A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
All 67 counties in the state are purchasing new voting machines — a handful already have done so — at the order of Gov. Tom Wolf. For years, most voters in the state used systems that did not leave an auditable paper trail. Wolf’s mandate requires all machines in the state to have voter-verifiable paper trails that can be audited and manually recounted, which security experts say is more secure.
But Skoglund and the other voters say the ExpressVote XL is not as secure as hand-marked paper ballots, which voters manually fill out and scan.
To be used by Pennsylvania voters, voting machines must go through federal and then state certification. If a reexamination of the ExpressVote XL leads to decertification of the machine, as the voters and advocates hope, counties would be forced to choose other systems.
In counties that already have chosen the system, including Philly, that would set off a scramble to reselect machines in time for the 2020 presidential election.