2020 Election Security: Activists Seek to Stop Philadelphia From Using Touchscreen Voting Machines

Election security advocates led by Jill Stein argue that Philadelphia’s new touchscreen voting machines violate the state’s legally binding agreement to only purchase voting systems with a verifiable paper trail.



By Marc Levy

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein wants Pennsylvania to block Philadelphia from using new touchscreen machines the state is buying ahead of the 2020 election and threatened court action Wednesday if it doesn’t do so promptly.

Stein’s demand means that she and a group of plaintiffs could take the state back to Philadelphia’s federal court, where they filed an agreement last year to settle their lawsuit over vote-counting in 2016’s election.

Stein and the other plaintiffs made the request in writing to Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees elections.

“We must protect our vote and we must protect the authenticity of our vote,” Stein told supporters during her announcement in front of Philadelphia’s federal courthouse Wednesday.

The department has 30 days under the agreement to respond. On Wednesday, it did not say whether it would decertify the machines or consider decertifying them, although a spokeswoman pointed out that it recertified the system last month after originally certifying it last year.

The lawsuit had accused Pennsylvania of violating the constitutional rights of voters, saying its voting machines in 2016 were susceptible to hacking and barriers to a recount were pervasive.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration settled the lawsuit in part by affirming a commitment it had made previously to push Pennsylvania’s counties to buy new voting systems that leave a verifiable paper trail by 2020.

But Stein said Pennsylvania’s certification of the ExpressVote XL touchscreen system made by Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software violates that agreement, in part because the machine does not meet the agreement’s requirements for a voter-verifiable paper ballot.

After voters make their selections on a touchscreen, the machine shows the voter a paper ballot card with summary of their selections and a bar code for them to approve.

However, election-integrity advocates broadly view the machines as less secure than systems that tabulate voter-marked paper ballots.

Voters may not look closely at the summary to catch an error, voters won’t know if the bar code is flawed and the machine has other weaknesses that make it less secure and less private, critics say.

In a statement, the office of Philadelphia’s election board chairwoman accused Stein of pushing “misinformation which erodes voter confidence” and said the machines meet requirements written by the city’s cybersecurity experts.

In addition to Philadelphia, at least two other counties -- Cumberland and Northampton counties -- have agreed to purchase or lease the machines.

Election Systems & Software said in a statement that the machine is safe, secure and fully auditable, and Philadelphia is preparing to use the machine in November’s municipal elections.

With warnings of Russian efforts to interfere in 2016’s elections, Pennsylvania was under particular scrutiny because the vast majority of its more than 20,000 electronic voting machines used that year stored votes electronically without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be double-checked.

Wolf’s top elections official warned lawmakers earlier this year that failing to replace its voting machines by 2020’s elections could leave Pennsylvania as the only state without voter-verifiable paper systems, and certainly the only swing state in that position.

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