A couple of minutes after polls closed in Easton, Pennsylvania on Election Day, the chairwoman of the county Republicans, Lee Snover, realized something had gone horribly wrong.
When vote totals began to come in for the Northampton County judge’s race, it was obvious there was a problem. The Democratic candidate, Abe Kassis, only had 164 votes out of 55,000 ballots across 100 precincts. In an area where you can vote for a straight party ticket, it was near a “statistical impossibility”, according to the New York Times.
When paper backup ballots were recounted, they showed Kassis winning narrowly, 26,142 to 25,137, over his opponent, the Republican Victor Scomillio. Snover said at about 9:30PM on November 5, her “anxiety began to pick up”.
“I’m coming down there and you better let me in,” she told someone at the election office after eventually getting through to them on the phone.
Matthew Munsey, the chairman of the Northampton County Democrats who helped with the paper ballot recount said: “People were questioning, and even I questioned, that if some of the numbers are wrong, how do we know that there aren’t mistakes with anything else?”
The issue in Northampton County continues to highlight fears and mistrust over election security that the nation is feeling on a broader scale heading into 2020. The machines used in Northampton County were also used in Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs, crucial areas for next year’s Presidential election.
Calibration of the voting ecosystem is often invoked by those who lose by a small margin.
Snover echoed voter concerns: “There are concerns for 2020. Nothing went right on Election Day. Everything went wrong. That’s a problem.”
Voters around the country say that machines exacerbate an already grueling voting process that is replete with long lines and frustrated poll workers.
Michelle Broadhecke of Easton, like many others who watched their Democratic candidate go down in flames in 2016, said her anxiety about elections began after Trump won.
She said: “It made me sad because with everything that’s going on, you kind of worry about: Was something tampered with, or was it just a mistake. There’s just too much going on that you worry about those things. And you don’t want the wrong people in the wrong places.”
No study has been conducted to determine why the machines malfunctioned in Northampton County. The machines stay locked away for 20 days after the election, per state law. The prevailing theory has been a bug in the software and there have been no visible signs of outside meddling, according to a senior intelligence official.
Or as Democrats call it, “Russian interference”.
County officials say the machines worked as they should have, with the paper ballot backup process working as advertised.
Katina Granger, a spokeswoman for Election Systems & Software, the manufacturer of the machines said: “We also need to focus on the outcome, which is that voter-verified paper ballots provided fair, accurate and legal election results, as indicated by the county’s official results reporting and successful postelection risk-limiting audit. The election was legal and fair.”
The automatic tests in Northampton proved to be problematic in that they didn’t even cast votes for every candidate.
The machines were rolled out and used anyway.