Does a video posted to Facebook show a rigged digital voting machine used in Middletown Township, New Jersey, during the state's general election in 2021? There is no evidence to suggest that it does: While there were reports of touch screens occasionally locking up on digital voting equipment in New Jersey during the election, those machines are set up to permit each voter two chances to review their selections before their ballot is officially cast. Also, Monmouth County -- where Middletown Township is located -- put out a statement on Facebook that debunked the claim, saying no voter filed a complaint.
The claim appeared in the audio portion of a Facebook video (archived here) posted on November 3, 2021, with no caption or description. The video showed a voter using a machine in the "Township of Middletown, District 11" that listed candidates for various positions in New Jersey. Trying to follow an off-camera person's instructions, the voter in the video repeatedly tapped on their gubernatorial candidate choice, Republican Jack Ciattarelli. The video did not show whether the voter was successful; instead, it showed that they could select another gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Phil Murphy. When asked again at the end of the video by an off-camera person whether the voter's machine was working, the voter said:
It is not. But the other candidate is doing it, that's very interesting.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on November 5, 2021:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Thu Nov 4 22:15:32 2021 UTC)
The Monmouth County Clerk's Office published a Facebook post on October 29, 2021, that read:
The Monmouth County Clerk's Office is aware of misinformation spreading on social media regarding the County's new voting machines. The rumor falsely states that new voting machines are corrupted by political influence and when choosing the Republican Party candidate for the gubernatorial election, the voter's printed and submitted election results show that the voter instead cast their ballot for the Democrat candidate.
This is unequivocally false! Monmouth County's new voting machines are safe and secure, and have been certified by the State of New Jersey. The machines use touchscreen technology so voters should tap the center of the box in which the name of the candidate of their choice is listed. The screens are sensitive to the voter's touch. Once chosen, the boxes of the candidates will clearly change colors from white to green.
Voters will then have the opportunity to review their candidate choices twice, both on screen and again on their printed vote summary card, before officially casting their ballot.
Monmouth County consists of slightly more voters registered as Republican (146,933) than Democrat (144,131), although the largest chunk of its voters is unaffiliated with a party (198,226) as of November 1, 2021. The results of the gubernatorial election in the county also heavily favored the Republican, Ciattarelli, according to projected results from Politico.
In preparation for the 2021 general election, Monmouth County officials posted a video instructing voters on how to use the digital voting machines at polling locations. Beginning at the 1:29 the video's narrator says:
Simply mark your votes by touching anywhere inside the box around your voting choice. Once selected, your choices will be highlighted in green. After you finish marking all your selections, review every selection. You can deselect a choice by touching it again.
While the voter in the video followed those instructions, there is no evidence to suggest their machine was rigged because of its failure to recognize the voter's selection. The brand and model of the digital voting machine was not specified in the video, but based on a visual representation of the machine in a Monmouth County Board of Elections document and that model's similarity to the machine shown in the tutorial video, Lead Stories determined that Monmouth County used Election Systems & Software (ESS) ExpressVote XL machines, which have been reported to have issues with touch screens in previous elections. According to NJ.com, other counties in New Jersey also experienced isolated digital voting equipment issues on Election Day, but nothing serious enough to suggest a disruption of election results.
Lead Stories reached out to ESS for more information about the Monmouth County video, ExpressVote XL and any technical issues that may have been reported about the model during this election. In an email on November 5, 2021, Katina Granger, senior manager of public relations, told us:
Without a full view of the voter's interaction with the voting machine, it's difficult to discern what may be happening. There were more than 900 ExpressVote XL universal voting machines in use on Election Day in Monmouth County, and we had no reports of machines being removed from service due issues related to screen touches.
During a vote session, voters can notify a poll worker for assistance prior to casting their ballot. If a voting machine experiences difficulty, it is recommended that a voter end their session and use a different voting machine. If an error cannot be resolved, the machine should be removed from use.
Every ExpressVote XL voting machine prints a paper ballot so voters verify the accuracy of their ballot and be assured that their votes are counted as cast.
ES&S provides training and standard operating best practices to election officials using our voting systems. Additionally, we continually work to update, maintain and enhance our systems to meet the highest levels of voting system security and accuracy. ES&S voting equipment has been proven accurate and secure time and time again - through thousands of hours of testing and thousands of elections nationwide.
During a phone call with Lead Stories on November 5, 2021, Gregory Miller, chief operating officer for the Open Source Election Technology Institute, reviewed the video and said:
This is not an uncommon problem. These are new machines, the ExpressVote machine has had this problem before with a desensitized screen and we've been actually researching this issue ... And what I understand is that folks were being told that they needed to press more firmly and more slowly to get it to respond.
Miller went on:
We do not believe this is anything nefarious, mendacious, or intentional. We believe that it falls in that ugly category of 'glitch.' And so the thing to do is to report those to the poll workers the moment they happen and let them reset that screen for you or move you to another machine.
Miller repeatedly emphasized the importance of the actions taken after the video by both the voter and the poll workers. In an email to Lead Stories on November 5, 2021, Mary DeSarno, Monmouth County superintendent of elections, said:
We have been advised of this video relating to Middletown District 11. We encourage the voter to contact this office so that we discuss the situation and can look into the issue. We have not heard from the voter or any of the poll workers relating to this particular situation. It is important to note that with the new voting machines, voters have the ability to double check their votes two times before casting their ballots, which is a safeguard to protect the integrity of the vote. I will continue to investigate and keep you apprised of my findings
When asked whether there were any other complaints from voters within the county insinuating a bias in the voting machines, DeSarno responded in a separate email:
I have not had any voter call to date with this personal complaint.
Lead Stories also contacted a representative at the Middletown Township Communications Office about the claim, who advised us to speak with Monmouth County officials. We corresponded with representatives from the Monmouth County Clerk's Office, the Monmouth County Board of Elections and the Monmouth County Department of Public Information & Tourism. We will update this fact check with any relevant responses.