News & Politics

Northampton County officials remain confident despite voting machine glitches

Officials said the clerical error on voter summary cards won’t impact the final results.

Election workers begin processing ballots at Northampton County Courthouse on November 3, 2020.

Election workers begin processing ballots at Northampton County Courthouse on November 3, 2020. Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP via Getty Images

Voters across Northampton County encountered confusion at the polls on Tuesday when voting machines in the county began printing out inaccurate voting summary cards, though county officials stressed that the issue would have no impact on election results. 

At a press conference on Tuesday, county officials said that the county’s voting machines, manufactured by Election Systems & Software, were showing an inaccurate result when producing paper receipts that voters can check after casting their ballot. 

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure noted that while he was “livid” about the error, it was a “relatively minor glitch in our processes.”

“I’m describing this as ‘relatively minor’ because it is and because it occurred only in one race, and that was a retention race for Superior Court. What I can tell you is that these votes will be counted,” McClure said. “It’s not minor in the sense that there are so many bad actors out in the world right now trying to undermine the confidence in our elections, and additionally, there are a lot of honest, open-minded people who are afraid of technology and who are so afraid of the other side winning an election they can’t possibly believe the other side actually won it fairly.”

“It’s our job to help give people confidence, help give them peace of mind in their voting processes, and that’s why we are treating this with the seriousness that we are treating it with today,” McClure added. 

Northampton County Director of Administration Charles Dertinger said the issue only applied to one portion of the ballot: questions asking voters whether to retain Superior Court President Judge Jack A. Panella and Superior Court Judge Victor P. Stabile. Dertinger said the voting machine receipts were listing the name of the opposite candidate. 

“It should have said ‘Jack Panella’ where it says ‘Victor Stabile’ when you look at the receipt for your vote card,” Dertinger said. “We are confident that tonight we will be able to provide everyone the results in a reasonable amount of time and that everything will be entirely accurate.”

Dertinger said that upon discovering the issue, voters were directed to fill out provisional ballots as a precautionary measure. 

As of approximately 4 p.m. Tuesday, the issue had only affected Northampton County, according to Linda Bennett, a senior vice president of customer operations at Election Systems & Software. 

“When the voters in Northampton County made the selections for those two Superior Court judicial retention races today, they were presented with the correct screen options, which accurately depicted those races. The voters’ selections on the screen accurately depicted their voter choices. However, as stated, that summary card reflected a clerical labeling error that was made by an ES&S employee, which caused the wrong label abbreviation to be reflected on that printed summary card,” Bennett said, describing the error experienced in Northampton County. 

Bennett said ES&S serves 39 jurisdictions in Pennsylvania, and reiterated that the error experienced on Tuesday won’t impact the final tally. “The voters' selections are recorded on the machine, so that is why we are sure and positive that the voters' selections are actually being captured,” Bennett added. 

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt said Tuesday night that ES&S took responsibility for the clerical error. Schmidt added that the Department of State will stay in contact with Northampton County and ES&S officials to determine why the error occurred. 

“While county officials have said the error did not affect the tabulation of votes, we will be following up with both Northampton County and ES&S in the coming days to determine why the error was not identified prior to election day,” Schmidt said at a press conference after polls closed. “It’s important that the county and the vendor continue to be transparent after the election, so that voters have confidence that a similar error would not occur in the future.”

Schmidt stressed that the error in Northampton County was a “clerical labeling error, not a vote tabulation error.”

Voting machines have been a flashpoint across the commonwealth in recent years, including in Northampton County, where, in 2019, voters dealt with a variety of issues with their ES&S ExpressVote XL machines – including screen malfunctions – and the county board of commissioners later supported a “vote of no confidence” in the county’s machines. 

And just this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed sanctions against Fulton County after county election officials defied the state and allowed third-party access to its voting machines used in the 2020 elections.