Montgomery County officials thought they were ahead of the game with their plan to have a paper-ballot voting system in place for the primary election in May.
Now, the partial federal government shutdown has left that plan in limbo — the voting machines the county wants to use have not received final federal certification. If the federal government doesn’t reopen soon, those machines won’t be in place for the primary. “It’s stunning,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, the Democrat representing the 4th District. While federal workers and their families are hurt the most, she said, the shutdown has begun to bite those who need federal services: “And now we’re rippling out to the notion of the protection of our vote? It’s really staggering.” County officials said they’re still hoping for the best.
“We’re essentially preparing to have two different systems ready to go, with the hope that it’s the new one,” said Lee Soltysiak, the county’s chief operating officer and clerk of its election board.
Things were looking rosier just a month ago. County commissioners approved a $5.8 million contract Dec. 13 to replace 1,150 machines with a system in which voters fill out a paper ballot and then scan it, creating a paper trail that can be audited. Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered counties to replace their systems by the end of the year to ensure all votes leave a paper trail, but most counties have been slow to do so for a variety of reasons, including lack of funding and resistance to the mandate.