New voting machines for NY? State OKs touchscreen models and opponents warn of problems

New York has signed off on a touchscreen voting machine that gives counties a new option for elections but has triggered concerns about errors and hacking that could lead to a legal challenge.

The state Board of Elections certified the ExpressVote XL model on Wednesday, adding it to the list of voting devices from which New York City and 57 counties choose. The machines feature a 32-inch interactive screen that displays the ballot and that voters touch to select candidates.

The Nebraska company that makes the device vows it's reliable and secure, saying it underwent hours of development and testing before New York certified it. The manufacturer had sought the state's approval for several years.

The New York State Board of Elections on Aug. 2, 2023 certified the use of ExpressVote XL touchscreen voting machines.
The New York State Board of Elections on Aug. 2, 2023 certified the use of ExpressVote XL touchscreen voting machines.

"The system complies with stringent state and federal election regulations, ensuring that every vote cast using the ExpressVote XL is properly recorded and securely stored," Tim Hallett, vice president of certification for Omaha-based Election Systems & Software, said in a statement.

But Common Cause New York, one of a litany of groups that urged the state board to deny certification, blasted the decision and urged state lawmakers to revisit a bill that would prohibit touchscreen voting machines. It also vowed to "explore additional avenues to protect voters and the security of the vote."

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, called the approval "a major step backwards for New York, and an exceedingly poor decision ahead of the 2024 presidential election year when election security remains a fraught topic."

What are the concerns?

For the past 12 years, New Yorkers have voted by marking their choices on a paper ballot and feeding it into an electronic scanner that registers their votes. Those optical scan machines were first deployed statewide in September 2010, when the state retired the lever-operated machines that had been wheeled into polling stations for decades.

Machine inspector Mary White gives Rob Booth of South Nyack a sticker after he voted with his son at Living Christ Church polling station in South Nyack Nov. 5, 2019.
Machine inspector Mary White gives Rob Booth of South Nyack a sticker after he voted with his son at Living Christ Church polling station in South Nyack Nov. 5, 2019.

With the ExpressVote XL machine, after voters make their choices with touchscreens, they are shown a printout of their choices before their votes are recorded. The machine then whisks away and deposits those paper records and generates a separate, barcoded vote record for use in recounts.

Various groups opposed to the machine sent two letters to the state Board of Elections shortly before the certification vote, raising concerns about whether votes would be accurately recorded and tallied.

Common Cause New York issued a report in 2020 opposing the ExpressVote XL machines, arguing they offer no "secure paper trail" for votes, are expensive and can malfunction or miscount votes. It cited a Pennsylvania race in which thousands of votes for a candidate weren't tallied until a manual recount.

Lerner said in her statement this week after machines were certified: "Paper ballots marked by the voter - which New York currently uses - is the election security gold standard, and New York should not be spending taxpayer dollars on anything else."

2010 changeover: New voting machines cause few problems in Hudson Valley

What is the company's response?

Katina Granger, a spokeswoman for Election Systems & Software, said Thursday that about 100,000 ExpressVote products are currently used "securely, accurately and reliably" in 40 states and Washington, D.C. A video demonstration of the model approved by New York says it's "physically impossible to add, modify or invalidate votes on them."

The company touts the machine's "universal accessibility," which it said allows all voters, including those with a disability and those who don't speak English, to "cast a secure, verifiable paper ballot."

Whether to use them in New York is up to election boards and local officials in New York City and the counties outside the city.

Ashley Torres, Ulster County's Democratic election commissioner, said Thursday by email that she shared misgivings about the machine and prefers a self-marked and self-scanned ballot that "requires the voter to analyze their choices more thoroughly." She also had qualms about adopting a machine that a lawsuit or a state law could challenge.

In addition, her county already has decided to buy new voting machines made by Hart that use a paper ballot.

"I believe it is the best option on the market, which is why we chose it," Torres said.

What comes next?

A bill that would prevent the use of the ExpressVote XL passed in one legislative chamber this year and could be taken up again in next year's session, which ends months before the 2024 general election.

The bill would guarantee voters a "human readable paper ballot" that they mark by hand or with a device that is not also used to count votes.

The Senate approved the proposal in a 46-16 vote on June 9, near the end of this year's session. The Assembly never brought it to the floor.

In a memo justifying the bill, the sponsors touted New York's use of "individual, voter-verifiable paper ballots that help ensure voters can cast their votes privately, independently, and securely."

"We live in a time when many voters harbor suspicion about the accuracy of vote counting," they wrote. "Requiring the use of the most reliable ballots may ameliorate that problem."

Chris McKenna covers government and politics for The Journal News and USA Today Network. Reach him at

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NY approves touchscreen voting machines that critics say are risky