By this November, Philadelphia’s big electronic voting machines will be just a memory, if Governor Wolf and the Department of State have their way. They have given the City Commissioners a directive to put a paper ballot voting system in place, preferably in time for use in 2019. That’s very good news. Because the old machines don’t record votes on paper, voters can’t tell if their votes were cast correctly, and the results can’t be recounted or checked for errors. But citizens’ groups such as Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, Citizens for Better Elections, and the League of Women Voters have become justifiably concerned that the process to choose a new system is taking place with too little public involvement or oversight. The city set a deadline of February 13 — less than a month from now — to choose a voting system from one of several vendors. Although this is a consequential and costly decision, the Commissioners invited the public to only two hearings, announced with little fanfare and only three days’ notice. What we learned at those hearings was not encouraging.
Requirements for a new system have been set out in federal guidelines and state directives.
Every ballot must be marked on paper, either by hand or by machine, so that voters have the opportunity to verify that their votes are what they intended.
Every polling place must have at least one ballot-marking device (BMD), a touchscreen computer with accessibility devices designed for voters who may need them.
Beyond those requirements, there’s a choice between two types of systems: those that offer only BMDs and those that let voters choose either hand-marked ballots or a BMD. Hand-marked ballots offer many advantages: increased voter confidence, more reliable capture of voter intent, shorter lines because many people can vote at once, resilience in the face of technical problems and power outages, and lower costs. It is the preferred choice of election security experts and the overwhelming majority of those who attended the hearings.