Things you never want to hear: “We need to talk,” “this chairlift was last inspected in 1974,” and “the voting machines are malfunctioning.” Election officials in Northampton County, PA, got a hearty dose of the last one on Election Day last month.
- Voters noticed irregularities…and then machines reported bizarre figures. Some machines showed zero votes for a judge candidate, which is a red flag whenever it’s possible to vote for one party all the way down the ballot.
- That tingled the spidey senses of county workers who then spent all night counting paper ballots the machines print as backups. Turns out, several of the race tallies were flat-out wrong, leading the head of the county Republican party to demand a recount.
The snafu had local onlookers concerned. First, could all the totals be trusted if a few of them were wrong? And were the paper ballots reliable if they were created by the same machines as the incorrect totals?
Zoom out: Voting machines comprise a crucial, but mostly unregulated, part of the electoral process. And after dealing with foreign interference in 2016, administrators are antsy about any flaws in the system.
That’s why the Northampton episode is so worrying. The same machines are used in Philadelphia and its suburbs—an important region in the presidential race. A county official released a statement acknowledging the problem and said the voting machine manufacturer, ES&S, planned to get to the bottom of it.
Bottom line: With both accusations of fake news and actual fake news contaminating political discourse, people need to feel confident in election results.