On December 8, 2023, Free Speech For People and Protect Our Votes Philly sent a letter to the Northampton, Pennsylvania County Council and Election Commission identifying an apparent violation of a requirement in the federal voting system certification standards. Proper compliance with the requirement should have prevented the County’s Expressvote XL voting machines from mis-recording votes in the November 2023 elections. 

On November 7, 2023, Northampton County experienced a disastrous failure of its Expressvote XL voting machines. Some voters found that their votes were recorded incorrectly on the paper ballot summary card in two contests. Working with the vendor, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the county reported that the machines had been programmed to denote votes correctly on the touchscreen and in the barcode, but that the information denoting the candidates’ names on the paper ballot summary card was programmed incorrectly causing the paper record to reflect incorrect votes in some cases. Because the county had prepared too few emergency paper ballots, and because it would be too time-consuming to reprogram all the machines, voters were ultimately told to vote on equipment that was demonstrably recording votes incorrectly. 

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) tests systems to ascertain if they comply with federal voting system standards and awards compliant systems with federal certification. Certification by the EAC is a prerequisite in Pennsylvania for any election equipment seeking approval for use in the Commonwealth from the Pennsylvania Department of State. Accordingly, the Expressvote XL used in Pennsylvania has received EAC certification. 

Free Speech For People and Protect Our Votes Philly identified a provision in the federal standards that requires that the relationship between the name of a candidate on the ballot be consistent with the mechanism to vote for the candidate. The failure in Northampton occurred because the Expressvote XLs do not ensure the relationship between the name of a candidate be consistent with the mechanism to vote for that candidate, and as a result, the candidates’ names recorded on the paper record were inconsistent with the selections voters made. 

Free Speech For People and Protect Our Votes Philly dismissed the County’s and ES&S’ claims that the error was merely a “clerical” error, and highlighted the apparent violation of the certification requirements to the County Council, writing: 

This requirement specifies a design that would prevent the sort of “clerical” error that wreaked havoc in Northampton. In essence, this certification requirement “idiot-proofs” the system from the input error that occurred this past election by requiring the data that designates the vote be consistent throughout the ballot.

The organizations urged the County Council to raise the issue with the Pennsylvania Department of State and the EAC, and to review its contract with ES&S to determine if this issue violates any contractual obligations. 

The letter was reported on by Lehigh Valley Live, and can be found here