Pennsylvania

Articles about voting issues in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania: Postponing the 2020 Primary over coronavirus is complicated | Julia Terruso and Jonathan Lai/Philadelphia Inquirer

Everyday life is suspended. Democracy is not. And now it’s on officials to figure out how to keep it going as pandemic strikes during a presidential election year. During a public health crisis that has upended every corner of life in America, who has the power to change an election? Pennsylvania is now grappling with the question. Pennsylvania’s primary election date is set by state law — in presidential years, for the fourth Tuesday in April — and the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures and Congress the power to set the “times, places, and manners” of federal elections. A postponement would be virtually unassailable if the state House and Senate passed a bill to amend the election code and the governor signed it. “That would be best,” said Adam Bonin, a Democratic election lawyer in Philadelphia. “This is fundamental American constitutionalism, that we are happiest and the system is best when all the branches have the opportunity to weigh in on a question.”

Full Article: Postponing the 2020 Pa. primary over coronavirus is complicated.

Pennsylvania: Some state lawmakers split on moving April 28 primary | Julian Routh/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the days since Gov. Tom Wolf floated the possibility of postponing the state’s April 28 primary election, Western Pennsylvania lawmakers have grappled with the consequences and implications of holding in-person voting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Responding to inquiries from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday, three Allegheny County state legislators said they’d immediately support — or be open to supporting — a suspension of the primary, warning that voters might not want to congregate at polling places and that poll workers might not want to work. Two other state lawmakers said they believe the election should be held as planned, encouraging people to vote by mail if they fear for their safety. The conversation around postponing the state’s primary comes as other states that are scheduled to hold elections on April 28 consider their options in limiting person-to-person contact. Election officials in one of those states — New York — are discussing moving their primary from April 28 to June 23, according to the New York Times.

Full Article: Some state lawmakers split on moving Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pennsylvania: Primary election should be postponed for coronavirus, officials urge | Jonathan Lai/Philadelphia Inquirer

County elections officials from across Pennsylvania are urging the state to postpone the 2020 primary election, currently scheduled for April 28 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Elections administrators from five counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the region hardest hit by the outbreak, are drafting a letter to send to Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of State, which oversees elections, requesting that the primary be delayed until June 23. County officials elsewhere said in interviews that they are making similar pleas to lawmakers and the Wolf administration. “We’re having issues,” said Deborah Olivieri, elections director for Berks County. “Give us the time to do it right.” In addition to public health concerns, the officials say it could be difficult to actually run an election. Some institutions are backing out of serving as polling locations, and some poll workers are saying they can’t work on election day. “We have to be able to literally hold an election,” said Lee Soltysiak, Montgomery County’s chief operating officer and clerk of its elections board. Elections staff have stayed at home as part of a government closure there, and the elections offices in Philadelphia were similarly closed Tuesday and Wednesday this week. That means voters aren’t being registered, absentee ballot applications aren’t being processed, and other election preparations aren’t moving forward.

Full Article: Pa. primary election should be postponed for coronavirus, officials urge.

Pennsylvania: Primary could be postponed due to coronavirus, though law remains murky | Deb Erdley/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With presidential primaries on hold due to public health concerns in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio, Pennsylvania’s primary scheduled for April 28 could well be the next election victim of the coronavirus. As voters undeterred by the threat of exposure cast ballots Tuesday in special elections in three Pennsylvania legislative districts, including the 58th House District in Westmoreland County, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said officials were weighing whether to change the date of the primary. “The Department of State is having comprehensive discussions about a range of potential options for the April primary election,” Department spokeswoman Wanda Murren said via email. “Those discussions are being held in consultation with the Department of Health, the governor’s office, the legislature and the counties. The department’s focus is on best ways to protect the integrity of the election while safeguarding public health.” Voting rights advocates say such decisions hold serious implications for voters.

Full Article: Pennsylvania primary could be postponed due to coronavirus, though law remains murky | TribLIVE.com.

Pennsylvania: Coronavirus could wreak havoc on 2020 Pennsylvania primary election | Chris Brennan and Julia Terruso/Philadelphia Inquirer

Pennsylvania’s primary election is seven weeks away. The coronavirus pandemic is uncomfortably closer than that. With schools and universities sending students home, the state Capitol in Harrisburg closing its doors to visitors, and professional sports seasons coming to a snap ending, what are elections officials to do about the April 28 primary? State Rep. Kevin Boyle, a Northeast Philadelphia Democrat, wants to require the state to mail a ballot to every eligible voter, moving the primary and general elections out of polling places as much as possible. His proposed legislation would set aside $40 million for ballots to be sent in “postage prepaid, pre-addressed return envelopes.” Voters would still have the option to cast a ballot at a polling place. “I think this is, unfortunately, a once-in-a-lifetime crisis that we’re facing,” Boyle said Thursday, citing projections from medical professionals on how the virus might spread. “If that were to unfold, you’re talking about a situation where I think it would be unrealistic to have in-person voting on April 28.”

Full Article: Coronavirus could wreak havoc on 2020 Pa. primary election.

Pennsylvania: $90M bond issue for voting machines clears state financing agency | Emily Previti/PA Post

State officials on Wednesday approved a proposed $90 million bond issuance to help cover costs for new voting machines across Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority’s unanimous vote moves the deal forward. The 10-year bonds haven’t been sold yet, though that’s expected to happen within the next few months, said Steve Drizos, director of PEDFA’s private financing center. Counties have until July 1 to submit applications for reimbursement for eligible costs. So far, counties have signaled they’ll seek reimbursement for about $136.5 million, combined, according to Deputy Secretary of State Jonathan Marks. That doesn’t include costs for additional machines, scanners or other equipment counties might have realized they need after they bought new election systems, or additional expenses made after the April 28 primary, when voting machines will debut in 22 counties. Some counties decided to buy more machines after experiencing long lines and other problems at the polls last November.

Full Article: $90M bond issue for voting machines clears state financing agency | PA Post.

Pennsylvania: Thousands expected to choose new mail-in ballots, which could cause long delays in Pennsylvania election returns | Tom Shortell/The Morning Call

Amy Cozze was skeptical when the state estimated that as many as 41,500 Northampton County residents could cast their vote in the presidential election through the new mail-in ballot option. As the county’s newly appointed chief registrar, Cozze knew county voters cast about 1,500 absentee ballots in 2019 and reasoned that mail-in ballots might triple in a heated 2020 presidential election. Then the county received about 1,000 mail-in ballot requests just days after the application period started this month, prompting Cozze to up her projections “a little bit.” Across Pennsylvania, election officials are bracing for a flood of mail-in ballots. State officials believe the percentage of voters going to the polls won’t change much, but as a precaution, they are advising counties to prepare for as much as 20% of registered voters mailing in their ballots. “In an abundance of caution and based on other states’ experience, especially considering the immediate popularity of Pennsylvania’s convenient online ballot request form, we have recommended that counties base their planning for mail-in ballots on what we consider to be a high estimate,” said Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Full Article: Thousands expected to choose new mail-in ballots, which could cause long delays in Pennsylvania election returns - The Morning Call.

Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh forum will look at threats to democracy in the internet age | Abigail Mihaly/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Leading expert in cybersecurity David Hickton is warning us that the internet could dismantle democracy. Mr. Hickton, founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security and former United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, will discuss the issue in a lecture this week at the University of Pittsburgh. The “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?” lecture, hosted by the Dick Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy at Pitt, will ask the question: Is the internet a force for freedom or for oppression? When his children began instant messaging online, Mr. Hickton realized the internet was an open environment, without sufficient rules or security. “[The cyber world] is designed to make our lives better,” said Mr. Hickton. “But … it’s not coincidental that in some places around the world, digital space is being used to make people less free.”

Full Article: Pitt forum will look at threats to democracy in the internet age | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pennsylvania: State officials unclear on backup plan if federal courts decertify voting machine | Emily Previti/PA Post

Pennsylvania doesn’t appear to have a backup plan if a federal lawsuit succeeds in getting at least one voting system banned before the presidential election. U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond pressed Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar Tuesday on what might happen if he orders her to decertify the ExpressVote XL – the machine used by nearly 2 million voters in Philadelphia, Northampton and Cumberland counties – and if he applies his order to other devices. “I can’t overstate how much chaos would ensue, frankly,” Boockvar said. County election directors already are dealing with the state’s first major election law changes in decades amid the higher turnout that comes during a presidential election, she said. And when Diamond asked Boockvar how counties would proceed if he barred them from using the ExpressVote XL, she didn’t have an answer. “I don’t know how that would work,” she said. “But there would have to be some ability for voters to vote.”

Full Article: State officials unclear on backup plan if federal courts decertify voting machine | PA Post.

Pennsylvania: Judge hears arguments over Philadelphia’s voting machines | Marc Levy/Associated Press

Pennsylvania’s top elections official spent hours in federal court Tuesday, defending the certification of voting machines being used by Philadelphia and two other Pennsylvania counties, including one where problems led to undercounted returns in a race in November. The hearing in federal court could help determine how 17% of Pennsylvania’s registered voters cast ballots in the April 28 primary election, as well as in November, when the state is expected to be one of the nation’s premier presidential battlegrounds. It comes after a two-year push by Gov. Tom Wolf to get counties to switch to paper-based voting systems ahead of this year’s presidential election, a move he frames as a crucial election security bulwark against hacking. For part of her three-plus hours on the stand, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar sought to show that no element of a federal court agreement in 2018 specifically outlawed certification of the machine in question, the ExpressVote XL touchscreen system. She also testified that certification of the ExpressVote XL touchscreen system had been well underway during talks to settle the lawsuit.

Full Article: Judge hears arguments over Philadelphia's voting machines.

Pennsylvania: Get ready for ePollbooks: Northampton County Council bucks recommendation | Kurt Bresswein/Lehigh Valley Live

Going against the Northampton County Election Commission, county council on Thursday night voted to allocate $311,140 needed to purchase electronic pollbooks in time for the April 28 primary election. The ePollbooks have been a contentious topic, following problems with the county’s new touchscreen paper-ballot voting machines that marred their debut last November. The election commission a week ago voted to recommend council not approve the purchase of another new piece of technology for the polls. Election officials were left with little alternative, according to county Executive Lamont McClure. Pollbooks are needed to ensure people are properly registered to vote at their precinct. But under Act 77, the overhaul of state election law adopted last October, complete pollbooks can’t be printed in time for the election and the paper version would slow the tally of election results — possibly for weeks, officials said. “We have to give this county the tools to have a functioning election,” Councilman William McGee said. “They need the tools, whatever the tools are, to have a functioning election. Bottom line.” Thursday’s meeting occurred against a backdrop of chaos in Iowa with tallying caucus results in the nation’s first contest of the 2020 presidential election.

Full Article: Get ready for ePollbooks: Northampton County Council bucks recommendation - lehighvalleylive.com.

Pennsylvania: Sweeping changes to Pennsylvania election law could make early voting a norm | Deb Erdley/Tribune-Review

The heat is on — and it’s getting hotter for election officials across Pennsylvania as the April 28 presidential primary approaches. A new state election law that allows, among other things, no-excuse mail-in balloting 50 days before an election, coupled with the introduction of new voting machines in 22 counties, including Allegheny and Westmoreland, could prove the perfect storm this spring. In letters posted Friday, a coalition of civil rights and voting integrity groups voiced concerns that some Pennsylvania voters could be disenfranchised if county election officials don’t act quickly to comply with provisions of the new law.

Full Article: Sweeping changes to Pennsylvania election law could make early voting a norm | TribLIVE.com.

Pennsylvania: Northampton County Election Commission Board says no to electronic poll books | Peter Blanchard/The Morning Call

Fears of another Election Day fiasco in Northampton County have public officials feeling uneasy about implementing modernized voting technology — even at the risk of waiting weeks after votes are cast for official election results. Despite the urging of Northampton County Director of Administration Charles Dertinger, the election commission board voted 4-1 Thursday against recommending a roughly quarter-million dollar purchase of 350 electronic poll books ahead of the April 28 primary election. Last week, Tenex Software Solutions representatives provided a demonstration of the electronic poll books — iPads containing Apple’s encryption technology and reconfigured to disable Wi-Fi capabilities — to election board members and County Council last week. Dertinger requested the board make its decision at that meeting, but board Chairwoman Maudeania Hornik said it would be imprudent to rush into a decision given the numerous issues with new voting machines in the November election.

Full Article: Northampton County Election Commission Board says no to electronic poll books - The Morning Call.

Pennsylvania: New voting machines. Sweeping election reforms. What could go wrong in 2020? | Ford Turner/The Morning Call

Held three months to the day before the Pennsylvania’s presidential-year primary, a legislative hearing on the readiness of the state’s voting infrastructure was a mixture of reassurance and concern. The focal point of those who testified before an all-Republican array of senators on the Senate Majority Policy Committee was implementation of the just-passed Act 77 of 2019, the most sweeping set of Pennsylvania election reforms in decades. Worries also were expressed about voter privacy and delays in seeing the results election night. Faced with the welter of changes state and county officials must adopt before the April 28 primary ― mail-in ballots, changed registration deadlines and the elimination of straight-party voting among them ― the guarded tone was obvious in an answer given by Lehigh County Chief Clerk Tim Benyo. Asked by committee Chairman Sen. David Argall of Schuylkill County what might happen in the coming election, Benyo said, “I don’t foresee anything worse than what we saw in November, even with the addition of Act 77.”

Full Article: New voting machines. Sweeping election reforms. What could go wrong in 2020? - The Morning Call.

Pennsylvania: Groups challenging voting machine switch gears, counties remain in limbo | Emily Previti/PA Post

More than 2 million voters in three counties will remain in limbo a bit longer after a voting machine lawsuit changed course late Friday. Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson had scheduled a hearing Tuesday over whether the ExpressVote XL should be shelved for Pennsylvania’s nominating contest April 28, while the court fully considered the case. But late Friday afternoon, the plaintiffs withdrew their motion for a preliminary injunction. They say they’ll instead ask the court to fast-track the lawsuit – but not when that might happen. The change follows a hearing Thursday where the Pa. Department of State’s lawyers said a court action intended to be temporary could have permanent effects in this case. If counties buy and implement new voting machines to comply, they wouldn’t be in a position to switch back to the XL if the final decision later upholds the machine’s certification, attorney Michele Hangley said.

Full Article: Groups challenging voting machine switch gears, counties remain in limbo | PA Post.

Pennsylvania: Federal judge delays voting machine case against Department of State | Emily Previti/PA Post

A federal judge on Friday ordered a month-long delay in a case that seeks to bar the use of a specific voting machine in the upcoming presidential primary. Hearings were to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to determine whether the ExpressVote XL touchscreen tabulator violates a legal settlement that set higher standards for election security in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Northampton and Cumberland counties selected the XL as part of an election system update required of all Pa. counties by the end of 2019. The delay ordered by the judge leaves the counties in limbo. Officials from the counties and the Pa. Department of State say shelving the XL and shifting to different voting systems so close to the election would create chaos for voters. They say plaintiffs could and should have acted sooner — and U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond agreed with that point in the order issued Friday.  A key issue in Diamond’s decision to delay the next hearing until Feb. 18 is the potential that one of the plaintiffs attorneys, Ilann Maazel, could be called as a witness by the DoS. If the state insists on calling Maazel, Diamond said he would remove the lawyer from the case. The delay, the judge said, is intended to give the plaintiffs time to prepare new counsel.

Full Article: Federal judge delays voting machine case against Pa. Department of State | PA Post.

Pennsylvania: More new electronics for voting in Northampton County? Election officials hit pause. | Kurt Bresswein/Lehigh Valley Live

Northampton County officials are considering spending about a quarter of a million dollars on specially configured iPads to check in voters at the polls beginning with the 2020 primary election. County Executive Lamont McClure’s administration sprang the proposal on the county election commission during its quarterly meeting Thursday. Director of Administration Charles Dertinger was looking for a recommendation on the purchase to bring to county council, calling the timeline tight to get the new ePollbooks ordered and delivered. Commission Chairwoman Maudenia Hornik, elected by her colleagues to the leadership role at the start of the meeting, pushed back on having to make a decision immediately. She wants to do her own research on the options available, especially after the problems the county had with new touchscreen paper-ballot voting machines in November’s election. “We just made a huge purchase and we’ve got egg on our face,” Hornik said during Thursday’s meeting at the courthouse and government center in Easton. “I didn’t know we were voting tonight. … i just feel as if I don’t want to do this hastily.”

Full Article: More new electronics for voting in Northampton County? Election officials hit pause. - lehighvalleylive.com.

Pennsylvania: Cumberland County receives ExpressVote XLs as two courts continue to litigate their eligibility | Zack Hoopes/The Sentinel

Cumberland County received some of its new voting machines this week, the same machines that are the subject of state and federal lawsuits and that experienced mistabulations in Northampton County in the last election. Cumberland and Northampton counties, along with Philadelphia, are in limbo regarding the current or future use of the ExpressVote XL, a product of Election Systems and Software. Cumberland County received the first shipments of its 400-machine order this week, according to Bethany Salzarulo, director of the county’s elections bureau. Salzarulo said she and her staff were aware of the Northampton issues, which officials there blamed on ES&S not adequately communicating the necessary testing procedures to elections staff. Proper testing would have caught the errors well before election day, Salzarulo said, something Cumberland County staff is prepared to do regardless of ES&S.

Full Article: Cumberland County receives voting machines as two courts continue to litigate their eligibility | Politics | cumberlink.com.

Pennsylvania: Some voting security groups want Northampton County voting machines gone after November malfunction | Bo Koltnow/WFMZ

“They are insecure and administration panels are easily opened and tampered with.” Attorney Leslie Grossberg is talking about the ExpressVoteXL voting machines. The machines used in Northampton County malfunctioned last November causing a paper ballot recount. Grossberg’s clients, voting security groups, recently filed an injunction with the Court of Common Pleas to block the XL in 2020. The groups cite immediate and irreparable harm to the election. “Decertification of the ExpressXL is the goal,” Grossberg said. In December the machines, also used in Philadelphia, received a vote of no-confidence from the Northampton County Election Commission Board.  A state hearing is set that could decide to keep or toss the XL.

Full Article: Some voting security groups want Northampton County voting machines gone after November malfunction | Lehigh Valley Regional News | wfmz.com.

Pennsylvania: Voting security advocates seek to block use of Northampton County’s machines | Peter Hall/The Morning Call

Warning of immediate and irreparable harm to the election system, voting security advocates asked a Pennsylvania court to block the use of troubled voting machines in Northampton County and elsewhere in the 2020 elections. Leading a group of Northampton County and Philadelphia voters in a lawsuit over the machines, the National Election Defense Coalition and Citizens for Better Elections filed a motion Friday in Commonwealth Court seeking a preliminary injunction requiring the state to decertify the ExpressVote XL electronic voting system for the April primary and November general election. Citing new information from voters who encountered difficulty using the machines last year and a vote of “no confidence” in the ExpressVote XL by Northampton County election commissioners, the advocates said there is “no way to repair voters’ trust in the machines.” “If voters do not trust the machines, they cannot trust the outcome of the election,” the advocates said. “If that is to happen, the entire state of democracy starts to crumble under the weight of suspicion, distrust and frustration.”

Full Article: Voting security advocates seek to block use of Northampton County’s machines - The Morning Call.