County election officials have one word for Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed Pennsylvania state budget and its $15 million for new, more secure voting machines. “It’s very disappointing,” said Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley, a Democrat who chairs the election agency. “I am deeply disappointed in the numbers being proposed,” said Forrest K. Lehman, elections director in Lycoming County. “That was a bit disappointing today,” said Jeff Greenburg, elections director for Mercer County. The problem, they and others said, is that the proposed $15 million makes but a small dent in the estimated $125 million to $150 million cost for counties to comply with a state order to replace their voting machines by 2020 with modern, more secure models. Wolf is requesting that the $15 million continue for five years, for a total of $75 million, and a spokesperson said the governor is committed to seeing that staggered funding become reality while also working on other funding options. “We can’t bank on that. Let me put it that way,” Greenburg said.
Budget politics in Harrisburg can be tricky and there are no guarantees. And officials said five years isn’t fast enough for some counties who are struggling to front the money to buy new machines now.
“There are counties that a five-year state repayment is perfectly acceptable,” said Douglas Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. “They have the cash flow and can withstand it. But at the other end of the spectrum, we know there are counties that don’t have the reserves set aside. They can’t do the payment right now and be satisfied that within five years they’ll get it.”
Wolf’s Pennsylvania Department of State last year ordered voting systems replaced by the 2020 primary with machines that leave a paper trail of votes cast. County officials and election-integrity advocates applaud the goal of having systems that are less vulnerable to hacking and provide a tangible record of votes.
They just don’t know how to pay for it.