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Scrutiny Of Philadelphia’s Voting Machines Intensifies


Gloucestercitynews.net (Dec. 18, 2019)--Voting used to be a straightforward process. Voters would pick up a ballot paper, walk into a booth, place an 'X' next to the name of the candidate they wanted to vote for, and human beings would count up all the votes to determine the Screen Shot 2019-12-18 at 9.12.34winners and losers. The system was open to failure or error, as any system involving human hands always is, but it was a process that worked for centuries. Technology is gradually creeping into all of our lives and all of our systems and processes, though, and so the way in which we vote has changed.

The primary purpose of technology is to make life easier for us all. Technology is there to make processes less laborious, less prone to error, and easier to complete. With voting, high-tech voting machines are supposed to reduce the possibility of a vote being miscounted and make it easier for a voter to go about their democratic duty. That may be how things are supposed to work in principle - and we know that voting machines work perfectly well in many other parts of the country - but in Philadelphia, in particular, they appear to have turned into a liability. They're now thought to be so open to hacking and abuse that lawsuits have begun to be filed with the intention of forcing Philadelphia to scrap its machines entirely.

It's been known for a while now that there's been an issue with the machines being used in Philadelphia. They were blamed for an undercount in a Pennsylvania county election during November, and now if critics are to be believed, they might be so unreliable and vulnerable that they're more like online slots machines than vote-counting machines. A player placing a bet on an online slots game has no idea whether they're going to win anything until they've spun the reels, and if they do win, then their victory happens at random. The voting machines that Philadelphia voters have been using have certainly delivered jackpots in the form of success for some political candidates, but if the allegations of their failures are correct, those victories may have been no less random than the wins that come to lucky online slots on website like RoseSlots.com. If true, they run the risk of turning elections into gambles.

The current hardware and software run on the machines in Philadelphia are known as ExpressVote XL, created by Election Systems and Software, who are based in Nebraska. Both the machines and the software that runs on them were certified by Pennsylvania-based officials as being fit for purpose, and Election Systems & Software have consistently maintained their position that their products aren't vulnerable, and comfortably surpass the minimum standards required in terms of accessibility and security. It now appears that a court may have to rule on the veracity of that statement before voters next to go the polls. The move could have significant implications for the methodology by which voters will cast their votes in the 2020 Presidential election.

News of the lawsuit has also been picked up by the Washington Post, which says that a combination of election security advocacy groups and concerned local civilians have come together to file the suit. They fear that the machines are wide open to hacking - possibly even by Russian agents. Russia was, of course, proved to have electronically interfered in the 2016 Presidential election. Considering the level of the scandal caused by the last hacking incident, government officials at the national level will be especially keen to ensure that there's no repeat this time around.

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Although inaccurate or faulty voting machines would be considered a serious issue no matter where they were located, it's particularly important that they're correct in Philadelphia because of its importance to Pennsylvania as a whole. The state is expected to be a key battleground in the Presidential election, and a wrongly-called result here could theoretically result in a wrongly-called election. Seventeen percent of all voters in the state are believed to live in areas where the ExpressVote XL machines are currently in use. That's more than enough voters to affect the outcome of a vote. If the election is close - which is expected to be the case - the losing side will look closely at the integrity of the vote with a view to filing legal challenges if they have reason to believe there may be an issue with accuracy. It's a problem that Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the United States of America at large could do without.

We won't have to wait until the eve of the Presidential election to find out whether the lawsuit has been successful. The wording of the suit is aimed at ensuring the machines aren't used in the party primaries, which for Pennsylvania will happen in April. Should the plaintiffs win, paper ballots will go back into use until a more reliable permanent solution can be found. Among the many claims made by the lawsuit, which can be viewed by the public, it's said that the machines can easily be interfered with via an access panel, and can be electronically interfered with remotely even after the votes have been reviewed. Furthermore, following the undercounting of votes last month, the lawsuit says that it's already been proven that they're too prone to error to be relied upon to provide an accurate result.

Philadelphia is not the only area that is currently facing such an issue. Similar lawsuits are also underway in Tennessee and Georgia, including lawsuits that have either succeeded or been thrown out. This isn't even the first lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania concerning the ExpressVoteXL machines. Jill Stein, who represented the Green Party in 2016, says that the fact they're still in use at all violates a settlement she reached with the state that saw he drop her demands for the vote from that year's election to be recounted.

With so much controversy surrounding the machines, and the public’s faith in democracy at an all-time low following a bruising four years of political discourse, it’s likely that if judges believe there’s even the slightest risk that a machine might give an accurate result, it will be ordered to be shut down. That means the next time you head out to cast a vote in Philadelphia, you may want to bring a pen or a pencil with you. You’re probably going to need it


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Courtesy of Philadelphia City Commissioners and WHYY