A 21-member panel of elected officials, former U.S. Justice department officers and nonprofit leaders convened last year by a University of Pittsburgh research institute to review Pennsylvania’s election systems released its final report Tuesday, recommending the state move as quickly as possible to replace its touchscreen voting machines and implement stronger cybersecurity procedures to protect the statewide voter registration database. Pennsylvania and the federal government, the report reads, should help the state’s 67 counties purchase new voting systems before the 2020 presidential election, if not before elections for local offices later this year. “Given the clear and present danger that these paperless machines pose, replacing the systems with those that employ voter-marked paper ballots should be the most pressing priority for Pennsylvania officials to secure the Commonwealth’s elections,” the report reads.
While Pennsylvania currently uses a mixture of digital and analog machines to collect votes, 83 percent of the state’s registered voters live in precincts that use direct-recording electronic machines — commonly called DREs — that do not produce paper records of the ballots they collect. But replacing those machines will be expensive, with some previous estimates topping $125 million.
“I think we can do it,” David Hickton, the director of the Pitt Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security and one of the commission’s co-chairs, told StateScoop. ‘It’s in our interest to do it and have 2019 on the new system because I think the 2020 election is going to be a high-interest election.”
Use of DREs has been a point of great consternation for cybersecurity experts, with some finding evidence that their programming can lead to tabulation errors that could potentially affect election outcomes. A study earlier this month of machines used in South Carolina found that hundreds of votes were miscounted in 2018 races.