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Northampton County sticks with electronic voting machines after some question security

Northampton County Council backed the decision of its Election Commission Thursday night, setting the path for Northampton County to use electronic voting machines for the foreseeable future.By an 8-1 vote, council approved a $2.8 million contract with Election Services and Software for their Express Vote XL voting machine system. The full face machines resemble the devices currently used by the county but print a paper receipt that can be audited after the election.Council reached its decision after two-and-a-half hours of public debate and questioning by council. In the end, the council’s majority saw no reason to overrule the 3-2 vote the election commission made in March.“For me to step on the election commission and not value that vote, I would have had to hear some serious facts. I heard a lot of opinions,” said Councilman Kevin Lott.The most serious part of the debate focused on the security of the machines. Gov. Tom Wolf has mandated all voting machines used in the state leave a paper trail that can be audited as a fail safe for hacking concerns. Two types of devices fit this mold – paper ballots that voters mark directly before scanning into a machine for the official count and electronic machines that print a ballot.Some members of the public questioned the security of the Express Vote system, noting that while the receipt can be read, the machine actually scans a bar code printed at the top. Since voters can’t read the bar code, they cannot check if their ballot actually reflects their vote.“We are debating the security and integrity of our voting system, and we don’t get a do over,” said county resident Tom Bruno, who advocated for council to overrule the election commission.Election Commission members Deborah Hunter and Kathy Fox, who voted against the machines, raised similar concerns at council’s May 2 meeting. As a result, council tabled the matter until Thursday so they could observe school board elections in Delaware, where the Express Vote XL machines were used statewide for the first time.In a phone interview with council during the meeting, Delaware Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove vouched for the machines, saying they worked well and did not draw complaints from poll workers or voters. Amy Cozze, a county employee sent to Delaware to observe the election, backed up Manlove, saying the only complaint she observed was about the brightness of a light showing a voting machine was occupied.“To say it was a success was an understatement,” Manlove said.County Executive Lamont McClure presented council with statements from state officials who vouched for the security of the machines as well. Some people expressed fears that after the ballot was approved by the voter, the machine could print onto the paper receipt, potentially changing the vote. State officials found that could not happen, and even if it did, the machine could not erase the original vote, which would reveal the problem during an audit.Despite the two-and-a-half hours of debate and discussion, it’s unclear if county council had any choice in approving the contract. State law empowers each county’s board of elections to select and purchase equipment to conduct primaries and general elections so long as the material has the appropriate certification from the state.Northampton County operates slightly differently than most counties because of its home rule charter, but it was not immediately clear if council could overrule the election commission. Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni was not asked to make an opinion on the issue Thursday, but Lott argued council lacked that authority.The lone no vote was from Councilman Robert Werner, who attended the meeting by phone. He did not explain his vote during the meeting and was not immediately available for comment late Thursday night.McClure previously said the county intended to use the new machines by this November’s election. The goal was to have poll workers trained and to introduce it to the public during the slower municipal election rather than run it out for the busier presidential election cycle.
Source: Morningcall

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