A coalition of activists wants a new commission to review — and recommend replacements for — Allegheny County’s 4,600 voting machines. And as befits an effort to double-check the results of each election, organizers have back-up plans to ensure they have their say. The coalition, which includes the local League of Women Voters and the election-transparency group Vote Allegheny, has proposed an ordinance to create a 13-member “Voting Process Review Commission” tasked with “conduct[ing] regular periodic reviews” of voting equipment. If it decides newer equipment is needed, the commission would recommend the machines to be purchased, if voters approve a referendum to pay for them. “Sooner or later, the county will have to replace the machines, and we’d like them to be prepared with a recommendation about the replacement,” said Annette Shimer, vice president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh. The effort stems from longstanding doubts about the touch-screen voting machines Allegheny County uses. Such machines store votes in memory, but have no paper trail to confirm voters’ choices. Some activists say the absence of hard copies makes it harder to detect vote-rigging.
“You can’t do a proper recount or audit with the machines we have, because there is nothing to count,” said Ron Bandes, head of Vote Allegheny.
It appears to be a foregone conclusion that the commission will recommend replacing the current machines. The ordinance says voting machines must retain a paper record of each ballot so voters can verify them at the polls and “totals can be verified by an independent hand count” after election day.
The commission would consist of 10 members and three alternates. Some would be named by the county executive and County Council directly; others would be chosen from a pool of computer/cybersecurity experts, representatives of disabled voters, and advocacy groups.