“Bad” Voting Machine Rejected by New York

New York City - February 2, 2021 – The New York State Board of Elections unanimoulsy rejected certification of a voting machine called the ExpressVote XL at a special late January meeting. The machine, made by ES&S, is referred to as a “hybrid” or “all-in-one” voting machine because it combines voting and tabulation in a single device. Rather than tabulating hand-marked paper ballots, the practice recommended by security experts, the ExpressVote XL generates a computer-printed summary card for each voter. The summary cards contain barcodes representing candidates’ names, and the machine tabulates votes from the barcodes. Security experts warn that the system “could change a vote for one candidate to be a vote for another candidate,” if it were hacked. Colorado, a leader in election security, has banned barcodes in voting, due to the high risk.

Professor Rich DeMillo, Chair of the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at Georgia Tech, said, “It is encouraging that the commissioners refused to certify the ExpressVoteXL, an all-in-one ballot marking device that poses extraordinary risks for the voters of New York.” DeMillo is one of over 50 experts, good government groups and disability advocates who signed a letter opposing certification of the voting machine. Seven disability rights groups, led by Downstate New York Adapt, listed privacy concerns as a reason for their opposition. They noted the machine’s “skinny ballots” are a different size, and so might reveal voters’ choices.

New York elected officials also weighed in against the voting system. Thirty-three Assembly members sent a letter to the State Election Commissioners opposing certification, because, “The barcode printed on the summary card is not independently verifiable by the voter.”

New York law requires that voters have an opportunity both to vote privately, and to verify their votes. Arthur Schwartz, attorney for SMART Elections, says of the decision, ”I was thrilled after tangling with the Board last year over the Presidential Primary, to have the Board follow the law, not certify the ExpressVote XL, and protect rather than limit our right to vote.”

Election security experts say the machine’s most serious defect is a design flaw that combines a printer and scanner in one system with a shared paper path. This allows the summary card with the votes to pass under the printhead after it is cast by the voter. If hacked, the voting machine, “can add, delete, or change votes on individual ballots,” says Princeton Computer Science professor Andrew Appel. In an investigative series produced by SMART Elections, he called the hybrid design “a disaster", and in a blog post he said “indeed it is a bad voting machine.”

During the certification process, a number of other issues were revealed about the ExpressVote XL. In public testimony, Kevin Skoglund, a cybersecurity and voting systems expert said that the system being submitted in New York “uses extremely outdated software. It runs on Windows 7, which became end-of-life a year ago.” (1:27:20)

In an example of just how wrong an election can go, the ExpressVote XL miscounted tens of thousands of votes in a 2019 Northampton, Pennsylvania election. In a post-election statement, ES&S spokesperson Adam Carbiullido noted, “The ballot showed correctly on the screen, and printed correctly on the paper ballots, but the votes were not attributed to the proper candidates on the USBs (memory sticks).” Subsequently, the “Northampton County Election Commission Board announced a unanimous … vote of no confidence in the ExpressVote XL.”

Despite these issues, the ExpressVote XL “is the most expensive voting machine on the market at $8,250 per machine,” according to Protect Our Vote Philly, a coalition of good government groups that fought the use of the ExpressVote XL in Philadelphia. Following the Philadelphia certification, an investigation revealed that ES&S did not disclose lobbying and lobbyist campaign contributions, including to the two city commissioners who selected the system. ES&S was fined 2.9 million dollars, but the city is still currently using the machine.

Conflicts of interest could be raised in connection with the ExpressVote XL in New York as well. In 2018, NY1 reported that ES&S had paid for travel, hotels and dining for New York City Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan. Ryan subsequently signed a letter to the New York State Board of Elections asking to use the pricey ExpressVote XL.

In addition to Pennsylvania, the ExpressVote XL is in use in Delaware and New Jersey and certified for use in California and Texas. Dr. David Bader, another security expert who signed the coalition letter said, “New York election officials made a good call, but the fact that a voting machine with this many security issues is being marketed and sold across the country is a clear indicator that we need to carefully examine our national certification process.” Following the decision, SMART Elections Executive Director Lulu Friesdat said, “If the legislature will now pass the “hybrid-ban bill”, we can make this protection permanent. The bill has been introduced in the New York Assembly by Amy Paulin, and in the Senate by Zellnor Myrie.

SMART Elections is part of a broad nationwide coalition of partners working to bring better voting machines to New York and other states. Coalition partners sent over 500 letters to the New York State Board of Elections and over 700 letters to New York legislators, as well as making calls to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. A full list of coalition partners can be found here.

Media Notes: To schedule an interview with Lulu Friesdat, or Arthur Schwartz or to request additional information on this issue, please contact Lulu Friesdat at Lulu@SMARTelections.us . Andrew Appel and Rich DeMillo, may be reached via their websites.

About SMART Elections

SMART Elections is a nonpartisan project dedicated to elevating the issue of election reform to an urgent national priority. We are collaborating to make U.S. elections more secure, accessible, accurate, and fair. To learn more, visit https://smartelections.us .



David A. Bader
David A. Bader
Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Data Science

David A. Bader is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer Science at New Jersey Institute of Technology.