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Voting machines in one Pennsylvania county flip votes for judges, an error to be fixed in tabulation

A coding error in an eastern Pennsylvania county caused votes to be flipped on a ballot question that asked whether a pair of incumbent state appeals judges should be retained, officials said Tuesday.

Voters were asked to decide whether Pennsylvania Superior Court Judges Jack Panella and Victor Stabile should be retained for additional 10-year terms. The “yes” or “no” votes for each judge were being switched because of the error, said Lamont McClure, the Northampton County executive. If a voter marked “yes” to retain Panella and “no” on Stabile, for example, it was reflected as “no” on Panella and “yes” on Stabile.

McClure said voters first noticed the error on the printed voting records produced by the touchscreen machines.

The issue affected all the county’s voting machines in use Tuesday, which McClure estimated at more than 300. The Pennsylvania Department of State said the problem was isolated to the two retention votes in Northampton County and that no other races statewide were affected.

The county obtained a court order Tuesday after the problem was discovered that allowed the machines to continue to be used. When the votes are tabulated, they will be corrected so that “Panella’s votes will be returned to Panella, and Stabile’s will be returned to Stabile,” said McClure, who leads the county 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Philadelphia.

McClure called it a “relatively minor glitch” and said in a phone interview that “everybody’s vote’s going to count” as the voters intended. Poll workers were instructed to inform voters of the glitch before they entered the voting booth.

McClure blamed a coding error by voting machine company Election Systems & Software, which he said the county’s elections staff failed to pick up during testing.

ES&S acknowledged fault. A company spokesperson, Katina Granger, said the problem was caused by human error, was limited to Northampton County and only affected the judicial retention question.

Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press