Cost is the biggest roadblock Valley election officials are having in meeting Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate that all voting machines provide a paper trail before the 2020 presidential election. The mandate covers the entire state, including counties with optical scan machines that count votes marked on paper ballots, said Wanda Murren, a Department of State spokeswoman. Union County’s director of elections and voter registration Greg Katherman on Friday afternoon, said the county’s current voting machines are functioning, but worn and approaching the time in which they should be replaced. “There is some money coming from the Federal omnibus spending package, but it’s not enough to cover the costs,” he said.
Articles about voting issues in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania: Absentee-ballot problem: Votes come in late because of tight deadlines | Philadelphia Inquirer
Every vote counts. But the reality in Pennsylvania is that not every vote is counted. In fact, if past patterns hold, more than 2,000 absentee ballots cast by Pennsylvanians this November won’t be tallied — and the voters won’t know it. The problem is the deadlines, election officials say: Outdated election laws set timelines that are too compressed. Would-be voters who wait until the end — and of course, people do — have almost no chance of getting their votes counted if they use standard mail service. Just three days separate the deadlines for requesting a mailed absentee ballot and for returning it to county officials. “We’re in the 21st century and we’re relying on a 19th-century system,” said David Thornburgh, head of the Philadelphia-based good-government group Committee of 70. “It’s just absurd in 2018 to be basically back in the Pony Express era.”
Lawrence County government officials plan to buy new voting machines before the 2019 elections season. That will give the county some assurance that the system works before the next presidential election in 2020. But the price tag that comes with mandated machines with a paper trail is one that the taxpayers locally may have to eat, unless the state and federal governments come through with funding to back up their mandate. Ed Allison, county director of elections and voting, estimated that the cost for Lawrence County to meet the mandates with a new voting system could range between $750,000 to $1.5 million. Statewide, the cost is expected to be about $150 million for all 67 counties to comply, he said.
The Pennsylvania budget for 2018-19 includes a little more than $14 million to cover the cost of replacing the state’s voting machines. That’s a fraction of the projected $125 million it will cost to buy the more secure machines that meet the standards proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of State in April. So far, almost all of that funding has come from the federal government. The state has chipped in just 5 percent. Wolf wants the state to have more secure voting machines, all which provide paper ballots, in time for the 2020 presidential election. If the state and federal government don’t pick up more of the cost, the counties will be forced to pay. That possibility has county leaders worried, even as many acknowledge the state needs to replace the equipment, said Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
With Pennsylvania’s 67 counties under a mandate to replace their voting systems in time for the 2020 elections, election officials will be facing difficult decisions. But county commissioners — the people voters elect for that purpose — might be frozen out of selecting the voting machines residents will use for more than a decade. Under Pennsylvania’s election code, the county election board is empowered to make decisions on election-related equipment. In most years, county commissioners also serve on the elections board in their counties. However, the commissioners are barred from serving on the board in years they are running for re-election. Next year — 2019 — is an election year for county commissioners. In Mercer County, commissioners Matt McConnell, Scott Boyd and Tim McGonigle could all be running for re-election. If they do, they could be prohibited from choosing Mercer County’s new voting system, which could carry up-front costs of about $1 million. McGonigle said the commissioners would seek guidance on the matter from solicitor William Madden.
Cybersecurity specialists at the University of Pittsburgh have formed an independent panel to study ways to protect Pennsylvania’s voting system from hackers. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security includes experts, reform advocates, and present and former government officials. It met for the first time June 26. David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney and founding director of the Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, co-chairs the panel. In an interview, he said the commission plans to examine the state’s election machinery, its voter rolls, and the system’s resiliency in the event of an attack. Hickton said the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed the state’s voter rolls were compromised by hackers in 2016.
The goal of Unisyn’s voting machine systems is to keep human beings out of the process as much as possible, “You’re taking that human element out of the process,” said Todd Mullen of RBM Consulting, which is marketing and servicing electronic voting systems for Unisyn Voting Solutions, based in Vista, Calif. “The more you handle a ballot, the more opportunity you have to mishandle it.” Mullen presented Unisyn’s systems Thursday for the Mercer County commissioners and the county’s elections staff in the second of three scheduled demonstrations of voting machine systems. All 67 counties in Pennsylvania are under a mandate by Gov. Tom Wolf to adopt a voting system by January 2020 that provides paper documentation of individual votes, while protecting voters’ identities. Election Systems & Software, based in Omaha, Neb., demonstrated its devices June 14. ES&S company’s products include the iVotronic, which Mercer County residents have been using to cast their votes since 2006. The current system lacks the required paper trail. Dominion Voting Systems of Denver will stop in Mercer County July 12 to present its wares.
Pennsylvania: Top Republicans appeal gerrymandering case to U.S. Supreme Court | Philadelphia Inquirer
Pennsylvania’s top two Republican lawmakers filed an appeal Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a ruling that the state’s congressional boundaries constituted a partisan gerrymander and ordered them redrawn. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who twice were rebuffed by the court in seeking emergency requests to stop the redrawing of the maps pending appeal, now are asking the nation’s highest court to take up the case itself and rule on its merits. Their request comes as a deadline looms for passing legislation to change the way the state draws its election lines in time for the next re-mapping in 2021.
In 1842, James Shellito of Sadsbury Township was upset with the procedure used by the Crawford County Democratic Party for choosing its nominees. He proposed a change that instead of a designated few choosing the party’s nominees for the general election in a behind-closed-doors session, all the registered Democrats should be allowed to choose the nominee. The matter was put to a vote and others agreed with Shellito. Thus, the “primary election” as it is known today was born. The primary election is defined as the election held by the two major political parties (Republican and Democrat) to choose their respective nominees for the fall election. Although states have primary elections, the types of primary elections differ from state to state.
In Mercer County’s efforts to purchase a new voting system, the incumbent got first crack at displaying its wares. Omaha-based ES&S promoted its next-generation election machines for county commissioners and elections officials Thursday at the courthouse. Mercer County has used the ES&S-manufactured iVotronic machines for more than 10 years. Mercer, and Pennsylvania’s other 66 counties, are under an order from Gov. Tom Wolf to adopt voting systems that provide paper records of individual votes cast to alleviate concerns of election tampering in time for the 2020 elections. The iVotronic device does not meet that standard. All of the election options presented Thursday issue paper records of individual votes or read paper ballots, or both. Kevin Kerrigan, a senior sales engineer for ES&S, said the devices are designed to function for the long-term. “You’re going to buy this stuff and expect it to work for at least 10 years,” he said.