The Lead

Voting rights groups call for investigation of Election Day problems in Northampton County

By: - November 14, 2023 5:02 pm
A week out from Election Day, outside groups have reported spending $7.7 million on behalf of Democratic and Republican candidates. (Photo by Daniella Heminghaus for the New Jersey Monitor)

(Photo by Daniella Heminghaus/New Jersey Monitor)

Voting rights groups are calling for Northampton County officials to explain the voting machine programming error that affected ballots there on Election Day.

The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Common Cause PA, All Voting is Local, PA Voice, Action Together NEPA, and PA Stands Up, called for a full investigation and a report to provide transparency for the public.

“The county’s conflicting messages to the public on Election Day led to confusion, concern, and doubt in the security and accuracy of votes. These mistakes grow into misinformation,” said Philip Hensley-Robin, executive director of Common Cause PA.

The voting machine malfunction forced voters in Northampton County to vote via emergency ballots. County election officials said the issue was a “clerical error.”

The malfunction occurred in the Superior Court retention race where the voter had to select ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to vote for Judges Jack Panella and Victor Stabile to retain their seats. 

Hensley-Robin said such errors damage public trust and it is imperative that the county clarifies the mistake and how it happened.

“We must reassure voters that steps are being taken to prevent this kind of mistake in the future,” he said.

Northampton County Deputy Director of Administration Brittney Waylen did not respond to a request for comment.

Secretary of State Al Schmidt said last week that the Department of State would follow up with Northampton County and its voting machine vendor ES&S to determine why the error was not caught earlier.

“The programming error that occurred in Northampton County should be a lesson for every Pennsylvania county that uses hybrid touch screen voting machines,” Marian Schneider, senior policy counsel for voting rights at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said. 

In addition to the investigation and report, the groups called on the county to evaluate voting machine logic and accuracy testing procedures and make adjustments to catch errors; issue public notices to allow observers during the testing, as required by the Election Code; and supply polling places with adequate emergency paper ballots, equal to 50% of the poll’s registered voters.

Counties are required to perform logic and accuracy testing of all voting machines. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, the testing is designed to detect issues with screen calibration, mislabeling and other potential problems to ensure the machines work properly. 

“While the county completed some of this testing, it was not completed to adequacy or full compliance; otherwise the issue would have been caught and corrected before Election Day,” the voting rights groups said in a statement.

Additionally, the groups said, the county’s contingency plans were inadequate to cope with the malfunction. It didn’t have enough emergency and provisional ballots and had no local printer under contract to print more.

“The county had essentially no workable contingency plan in place, in the event that the machines were unusable at any point in the day,” the groups said.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.