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Lehigh Valley Election News

Lawmaker: Pa. must intervene to address Northampton County voting machine problems

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State Rep. Milou Mackenzie has called on the state to provide detailed instructions to Northampton County to ensure it avoids future voting machine errors. The county's machines have had widespread errors in two of the last five general elections.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — State Rep. Milou Mackenzie has elevated her concerns over Northampton County's election issues to Gov. Josh Shapiro and his administration, saying she is crafting legislation that would change how the state and counties communicate for elections.

On Friday, Mackenzie, R-Northampton/Lehigh/Montgomery, publicly released a letter she sent Shapiro and Secretary of State Al Schmidt earlier in the week.

In it, she asks the state to provide Northampton County with specific instructions on how to avoid the voting machine problems that plagued the county on Election Day.

"I would love to open a discussion between myself, my colleagues and your agencies about how to prevent widespread errors of this nature in the future," she wrote.

Mackenzie's office said she has not received a response from Shapiro, a Democrat in his first year in office, or Schmidt, a Republican who previously served on Philadelphia's Board of Elections.

The Department of State did not respond to a request for comment on Mackenzie's letter.

On Nov. 28, LehighValleyNews.com requested an interview with Schmidt or another State Department official about Northampton County's general election.

While department officials said Schmidt is not available, the news site is still waiting to see if an official will be made available. On Friday, a spokesperson said they would check to see if someone other than Schmidt would be available.

Election Day 'fiasco'

Shortly after poll workers opened their stations on Election Day, they discovered the touchscreen voting machines sometimes created paper ballot summaries that didn't match voters' selections.

ES&S, the voting machine vendor, and the county later determined the paper ballot swapped the names of two Superior Court judges up for retention.

That same morning, county Judge Abe Kassis ordered the county to continue using the machines and rely on the electronic ballot in the machine, which recorded votes accurately.

The step came at the advice of the state department, according to County Executive Lamont McClure.

The error didn't affect any races. Both incumbents were retained by wide margins, and it was the machine printout summaries that had the error, not the recorded electronic ballots themselves.

But while machines were shut down after errors were discovered, thousands of local voters were required to vote with emergency paper ballots, which were in short supply.

At least one person has claimed poll workers closed her polling place for over an hour, which could amount to a civil rights violation if true. Mackenzie previously dubbed the situation a "fiasco."

In theory, such machine errors should be caught during logic and accuracy testing, a stress test of every voting machine in the county.

However, McClure and ES&S spokesman Adam Carbullido said the testing was not rigorous enough to catch this specific mistake.

Of the two rounds of testing, neither split the retention votes, so each judge received the correct vote in that instance.

The swap also mixed the order of the judges on the paper ballot, but no one caught the discrepancy, Carbullido said.

Mackenzie said she plans to introduce legislation that would "help alleviate some of the miscommunication between the Commonwealth and the counties during the electoral process," but provided no details.

"Voters need the assurance that their votes are recorded properly, both on the machine and on all paper receipts."
State Rep. Milou Mackenzie, R-Lehigh/Northampton/Montgomery

She did not respond to a request Friday for comment on the legislation, but in the letter said it was intended to restore confidence in what's proven to be a broken system.

"Voters need the assurance that their votes are recorded properly, both on the machine and on all paper receipts," she said, referring to the paper printout produced by the machine.

Mackenzie has repeatedly called on McClure to resign over the election trouble. McClure championed buying the machines — one of the most expensive on the market — and they have failed to work properly in two of their five general elections.

Now, local Republican and Democratic leaders as well as everyday residents have expressed their doubts about the machines, she said.

McClure said he will not step down, but last month he accepted the resignation of Charles Dertinger, his director of administration and one of his close political advisers.

McClure also has said the county will not move on from the ExpressVote XLs ahead of next year's presidential election, saying bringing in new machines during a high-turnout election would invite disaster.

In the letter, Mackenzie said McClure has not provided "any meaningful action" he plans to take to correct the county's Election Day problems.

However, Registrar Christopher Cominni, whom McClure nominated for the job, said the county will make multiple changes to ensure a smoother election in 2024.

The county, Cominni said, will step up its logic and accuracy testing to ensure any similar mistakes are caught, and all poll workers must go through annual training ahead moving forward.

Previously, only new poll workers and judges of election were required to go through training sessions.

Mackenzie attended the Election Commission meeting where Cominni made those comments.

She was among dozens of speakers who urged the commission not to certify the results due to the irregularities with the voting machine.

At the advice of solicitor Richard Sandee, the commission certified the results by a 4-1 vote.