North Carolina Lawsuit Cites COVID-19 To Stop Touch-Screen Voting

A lawsuit has sought to end touch-screen voting in North Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic, amid fears that the machines could spread the virus. Four voters and North Carolina’s NAACP cited constitutional concerns and asked that touch-screen voting equipment ExpressVote, provided by the United States’ largest voting machine producer, Election Systems & Software, be prohibited from use in future elections. Around one-fifth of the state’s counties use these machines.

The plaintiffs claim that “using touch-screen machines are inherently hazardous to use during the COVID-19 crisis, because voters and poll workers are smudging screens with fingers and hands that could transmit the virus to unsuspecting people.”

The lawsuit claims that cleaning the voting machines after every use would create long lines to vote. A notice from the manufacturer, Election Systems & Software, stated for poll workers to clean the machines with a lint-free cloth with isopropyl alcohol on it or to use alcohol wipes; equipment should be cleaned for at least 30 seconds to sanitize them. The company also notes that voters should use hand sanitizer immediately before and after voting, and to wash their hands after voting. Election Systems & Software does not say how often equipment should be cleaned.

“COVID-19 can survive on plastic screens,” John Powers, an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said. “There’s risk if this [cleaning] doesn’t happen right each time. Both poll workers and voters can get infected.” Additionally, Courtney Hostetler a lawyer with the group Free Speech for People added, “[v]oters are essentially going to be forced to choose between their lives and their health and voting.”

The lawsuit comes as states are trying to determine how to conduct the November election, while the public health situation remains in doubt.

The lawsuit states that the “ExpressVote is an insecure, and unverifiable machine that threatens the integrity of North Carolina’s elections.” The plaintiffs are also concerned that these machines can be hacked and that a cast ballot may not be properly recorded if that happens; additionally, voters cannot see their ballot before they cast it and verify the information.