Voting machine trouble in Pennsylvania county triggers alarm ahead of 2024

After their touchscreen voting machines malfunctioned in a 2019 race for a judge on the down-ballot, voters in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, moved on.

When a similar issue popped up earlier this week, it triggered an internal backlash in the county. State and local election officials are now racing to restore confidence among voters ahead of what may be another controversial presidential election.

Lamont McClure, County Executive, told POLITICO that the glitch was due to human error before Northampton certified Tuesday’s vote.

Northampton’s debate comes at a time when election officials are still dealing with the fallout from Donald Trump’s claims of fraud in 2020, which centered on how local votes are counted. This skepticism will only increase as Trump is the current frontrunner in the Republican race.


Pennsylvania is a state with 19 electoral votes, and it’s expected to be one of the top battlegrounds next year. Northampton has approximately 220,000 registered voters. Trump won the state in 2016 by only 44,000 votes. He lost the state by approximately 80,000 votes in four years.

Northampton’s situation also highlights the delicate balance that politicians and election officials must maintain when they investigate legitimate problems without giving fodder for conspiracy theorists.

Al Schmidt, Pennsylvania secretary of state, said to POLITICO on Wednesday morning, after Northampton had voted to certify its results.

Northampton’s touchscreen voting machines were used for the first time in the 2019 elections. A programming error caused the ES&S voting machines to undercount votes in a local race for judges by a significant amount. On Nov. 7, this year, Northampton voters who went to their local polling stations found that the printouts of the same machines did not match the digital votes they had entered for two judges contests down-ballot.

As in 2019, officials from the county and ES&S said that the errors had no impact on the results of the elections. Both were uncompetitive up-down votes to keep state judges. They claim the machines are reliable and not at fault, claiming the problem was caused a single human error.

McClure stated, “One thing I learned from ’19 and’23 was that our machines have a lot of redundancy.”

Poll workers, election security monitors and members of the local political parties say that these glitches created significant confusion during the 2018 Election Day, even though they did not affect the results in the two judge races. The latest issue, which came so soon after the 2019 election, has triggered a growing reaction against ES&S. Many are now wondering if it’s too risky for the company to use its machines in a highly contested county at the center of a crucial swing state.

Matthew Munsey is the chair of the Northampton County Democratic Party. He told POLITICO that “since 2019, the theory was that it was a mistake that we had caught and that we have implemented new procedures to ensure that this never happens again.”

He said that after the most recent incident “I don’t know how to restore trust in these machines.”

Skeptics such as Munsey believe that the ExpressVote XL, the device used to vote the ballots, is the cause of the problems.

The machine prints out a paper that contains two types of information: a barcode used to calculate the vote, and text that corresponds with it so that voters can confirm that their votes were entered correctly.

The machines in both races of Nov. 7 swapped the choices made by voters on the written ballot, but not the barcode. This happened if the voter voted to keep one judge while voting “no” to keep the other.

ES&S officials and Northampton officials both acknowledged that the joint software testing conducted before elections should have detected this problem. The ES&S employees claim that the first time the error was introduced, it was during the regular programming to prepare machines for Election Day.

Linda Bennett, Senior Vice President of Account Management at ES&S said, “We are deeply sorry for what happened today” during a Press Conference held on Election Day. She cautioned that “we are certain and positive” that the selections of the voters are being captured, because the error affected only the written portion.

McClure stated this week that he had asked ES&S for the firing of the employee who was responsible for the mistake. McClure said that the county will “strive mightily” to prevent a similar error from occurring in 2024. He stressed that it was human error. He said that the error was not a result of faulty machinery.

Many Northampton residents are concerned about the glitch, as it requires voters to ignore the only part of their ballot that they were told four years ago to trust.

The county claimed that a human programmer had introduced a bug in ExpressVote XL, which caused it to incorrectly count the votes for a candidate running for a judge. The county officials were able to determine the correct count by using paper prints.

“In 2019, we were told to not worry when touchscreen issues arose. Glenn Geissinger, chair of the Northampton County Republican Committee, told POLITICO that “the cards are recording votes”. “OK, so you’re saying to me in 2023 that I shouldn’t be concerned about the printed card?”

ES&S argues that the paper trail in Northampton was still beneficial because it allowed voters and poll workers to identify the issue quickly. Katina Granger wrote an email saying that “this double-checking increases voter confidence and provides additional safeguards.”

McClure stated that the county received reports of the problem 15 minutes after the polls opened.

POLITICO reviewed the text messages sent that day by county officials and confirmed they were able to quickly diagnose the nature and extent of the problem.

The county sent a text message to all election workers at 8:31 am, alerting them that there was a problem with the judicial retain vote, and advising them to use emergency paper ballots. After studying the issue further, they sent a second message about 45 minutes later.

Officials told poll workers to return to the ExpressVote XL machine because the glitch was only affecting the written text, which wouldn’t be counted. Poll workers were able to fix the problem, even though the county hadn’t yet.