Pennsylvania’s 67 counties must select new “voter-verifiable paper record voting systems” by the end of 2019 and should try to have them in place by the November 2019 general election, the state informed counties Thursday.
These types of systems require a physical paper ballot that can be reviewed by voters and kept by officials as a record in case final tallies must be checked, said Luzerne County Election Director Marisa Crispell.
To cast their paper ballots, voters insert them into a tabulation device, Crispell said.
The two general options require voters to either fill in ovals on the ballots or make selections on a computerized ballot-marking device similar to the way they vote now, with the difference that voters would hit a button to print the ballot instead of casting it, she said.
Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres also announced the state will receive nearly $14 million in federal funding to assist counties with machine replacement.
“We have been planning for some time to bring Pennsylvania’s voting machines up to 21st century standards of security, auditability and resiliency,” Torres said in a release. “The federal assistance could not come at a more opportune moment.”
County Manager C. David Pedri said he and colleagues across the state have major concerns about another unfunded mandate.
Luzerne County officials have estimated new voting machines would cost approximately $4 million, he said. A $14 million state allocation would amount to $208,955 per county if it is equally divided.
“We fully understand the need for open and honest elections, and I’m happy to move forward with new machines. The question is how will we pay for them in this short time period?”
The county administration has been aggressively and unsuccessfully seeking federal and state grants for new machines, he said.
Pedri acknowledged the county’s voting equipment is “approaching the end of its life cycle” but stressed the system “remains fully operational and secure.”
“The main thing I want to be clear about is that our current machines were not decertified,” he said.
The county started using touch-screen electronic voting machines in the 2006 primary. The federal government gave the county $3.6 million to fund the initial switch to the electronic voting machines now in use and cover the cost of other improvements required by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, commonly called HAVA, officials said.
No county capital funds have been set aside for new voting machines.
According to Thursday’s Department of State release:
The state is receiving $13.5 million from Congress’ recent appropriation of $380 million for election security under the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2018. The funding is being distributed under provisions of HAVA. Each state’s allocation requires a 5 percent state match, bringing Pennsylvania’s total funding package to $14.15 million.
The state administration is working with legislators to help fund the voting system upgrades.
The department also is exploring “every option” to help fund or finance the upgrades, including lease agreements, grant opportunities, additional appropriations, partnerships and bonds.
While the state is supportive of the need for counties to plan and budget for new systems, it wants state voters to cast ballots on the updated equipment as “promptly and feasibly as possible,” Torres said in the release.
The department last week released an invitation for bids for new voting systems that meet enhanced security and auditability standards. Counties will be able to use the resulting state-negotiated agreement with vendors to buy systems that meet state certification requirements.
Counties must select from voting systems that are examined and certified by both the federal Election Assistance Commission and the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
One system has been certified to date, and several others are expected this summer and fall.
The department will provide “extensive support and guidance” to county election officials and voters to “ensure a smooth transition to the new systems.”
A vendor demonstration will be held April 26 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg for county and state officials and the public to learn more about the features and options offered by the new machines.
Until the new machines are in place, the state has a plan and is partnering with federal and state law enforcement agencies to “stay one step ahead” of security and infrastructure threats.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.