Bethlehem Press

Saturday, January 18, 2020

NEWS ANALYSIS NORCO - ExpressVote machines get no support

Monday, January 6, 2020 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Public confidence in Northampton County’s $2.9 million ExpressVote XL voting system was badly shaken during its rollout in the Nov. 5 election. At the polls, some voters complained they had difficulty making choices in the retention races. This is because as many as 30 percent of the machines were improperly configured in the factory. Worse, 100 percent of the machines reported false results in all races in which cross-filing was permitted. Finally, these significant errors were missed in pre-election testing.

ES&S, manufacturer of this system, has repeatedly apologized for these errors and has vowed to strengthen its quality control. “We will do better,” pledged Executive Lamont McClure right after the election. None of this mattered to Northampton County’s Elections Commission. During a lengthy and sometimes contentious meeting Dec. 19, they voted 4-0 to declare they have no confidence in the ExpressVote XL voting system.

It is the same elections commission which recommended this system to Northampton County Council on March 6.

The Yes votes come from Deb Hunter, Maudeania Hornik, Layton Snover, Jr., and Kathy Fox. A fifth board member, George Treisner, Jr., was unable to stay and left the meeting prior to this vote.

Though the board declared they had no confidence in the machines they themselves had recommended in March, they stopped short of demanding they be scrapped. This recommendation came from the Democratic and Republican parties. They also repeated a pitch to have the machines examined by Dr. Duncan Buell, an independent expert who previously wrote to county council.

Buell is already highly critical of the ExpressVote XL, and has been listed as an expert in litigation filed by former Presidential candidate Jill Stein, attacking this system.

Executive Lamont McClure said he is unwilling to assist her in an attack aimed at Northampton County’s voting machines.

In papers filed in federal court, ES&S has argued a ban on the continued use of the Express Vote XL would throw next year’s election into “complete chaos.” Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar states it’s simply “too late for Counties to replace ExpressVote XL machines in time for the 2020 primary, which will be held April 28, 2020.” The selection process for a new system would take 3-12 months, followed by another 3-8 month for delivery, training, outreach and testing.

The elections commission spent little time considering improvements to streamline the Presidential election. Instead, they focused on what went wrong. ES&S Senior VP Adam Carbullido demonstrated the errors as they existed on election day with a voting machine, and showed with another voting machine how his company will address the problem. During his presentation, he was asked whether he or his company made political contributions. He strongly denied the accusation, stating voting companies must be impartial.

While ES&S makes no political contributions, its lobbyists have donated small sums to candidates in Philadelphia. One Philly Council member was criticized for visiting company headquarters in Omaha to view the machines, but he said he went at his own expense.

The state auditor general has released a report indicated that officials in 18 different counties have received gifts from election machine vendors, but Northampton County is not one of them. Administrator Charles Dertinger said no one in Northampton County has asked for or received so much as a cup of coffee.

Commission member Deb Hunter did make a pitch for a machine custodian, but Dertinger said it’s unnecessary. Commission member Maude Hornik was dismissive of an epollbooks purchase as costing “too much money.”

No one even suggested improvements like a pilot election, precinct action plans or better testing. Commission members did want to know who in the county was involved in the testing, but Dertinger declined to answer a personnel matter. .

One commissioner wishes to use this fiasco politically. Right before the meeting started, Elections Comisioner Maude Hornik handed out a statement from the NorCo GOP, slamming McClure. It insinuates, with zero evidence, inappropriate contacts between his administration and the vendor. It even raises the specter of unions throwing their weight behind ES&S, a nonunion company.

Ironically, GOP party boss Lee Snover was a supporter of the ExpressVote XL. Her sister Maude and first cousin Daryl voted for it. McClure could never have purchased this system without their support.

For people opposed to the ExpressVote XL or who prefer paper ballots, there is good news. Those who wish to vote by paper ballot can do so.

Attorney Rick Santee, solicitor to the elections commissioners, informed the Board that recent changes to the Elections Code will permit “no excuse” absentee balloting in future elections. Those who vote this way receive and vote on a paper ballot, which must be returned to the elections office on election day.