Voting rights advocates file lawsuit over allegedly insecure North Carolina voting machines


A group of voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that voting machines used in almost two dozen North Carolina counties are not secure and could lead to voter disenfranchisement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The lawsuit, filed by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and multiple North Carolina voters, alleges that the use of the ExpressVote XL voting machine violates the constitutional right of individuals in the state to free and fair elections, and has cyber vulnerabilities that could lead to election interference. 

The ExpressVote machines involve the voter inputting their choices digitally, with the machine then printing out a paper sheet with a barcode embedded with the voter’s choices. The voting rights advocates point to this system as making it impossible for the average voter to ensure their vote wasn’t changed and was accurate. 

“The ExpressVote is an insecure, unreliable, unverifiable, and unsafe machine that threatens the integrity of North Carolina’s elections,” Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP, told reporters on Wednesday. “The new electronic system converts voters’ votes and ballots into undecipherable barcodes, forcing voters to cast a vote they cannot read.” 

Spearman urged the North Carolina counties using the machines to immediately “move to hand-marked paper ballots to restore voters’ trust in the integrity of our elections.”

The voting rights advocates also pointed to concerns with using the ExpressVote machines and not paper ballots in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. They argued that the need for poll workers to clean and help work the machines would expose them to the virus and potentially lead to long lines that could further endanger the health of voters. 

Counties that are planning to use the ExpressVote machine, which is manufactured by Election Systems and Software (ES&S), include Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte, N.C., is located, and Buncombe County, which includes Asheville, N.C. 

The case was filed in the Wake County Superior Court, and was also filed against the North Carolina State Board of Elections. A spokesperson for North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) told The Hill that their office was “reviewing the filings.”

Courtney Hostetler, counsel at Free Speech For People and one of the lawyers on the case, told reporters that the ultimate goal was to deem the use of ExpressVote machines “unconstitutional.”

“Our suit would not require any of these counties to purchase new machines, we are asking them to move to hand-marked paper ballots,” Hostetler said. “We aren’t expecting it to be intensive or impossible tasks for these counties.”

Voting machines have come under close scrutiny since the 2016 elections. During the lead-up to the elections, Russian agents targeted voting systems in all 50 states, and successfully accessed systems in Illinois and Florida, according to the report compiled by former special counsel Robert Mueller. There is no evidence any votes were changed. 

North Carolina is not the only state where the ExpressVote machine has faced controversy. In Pennsylvania, lawsuits are seeking a ban on use of the machines, which according to NPR are used by 1 in 5 people in the state. 

A spokesperson for ES&S, one of the largest election equipment manufacturers in the country, told The Hill that the company was “aware of the lawsuit,” emphasizing that the company “stands by the ExpressVote 100 percent.”

“This equipment has been used successfully in North Carolina and in thousands of elections across the nation, is certified by the federal Election Assistance commission as well as the State, and elections using this equipment are regularly audited to ensure accuracy and security,” the spokesperson said.

They added that “we work closely with all election boards on the proper sanitation of our machines and we know those boards believe there are steps every voter should take to remain healthy, regardless of voting process or type of equipment used.”

John Bonifaz, the co-founder and president of Free Speech For People, pointed to these cases on Wednesday as underlining the importance of the lawsuit in North Carolina.

“This case is really about securing the right to vote and securing democracy in North Carolina, but it has ramifications for the states at large,” Bonifaz told reporters. “I think there will be likely other court cases and challenges to ensure that we protect the integrity of our elections this November.”

–Updated to include a statement from ES&S. 

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