Replacing Pennsylvania’s voting machines with paper ballots by 2020 is good election policy but has put a burden on counties, an election official testified during an informational meeting of the House State Government Committee.
Gov. Tom Wolf says county voting machines must be replaced with paper ballot machines by the April 2020 presidential primary. Wolf’s administration has allocated $14.15 million in federal funds and is asking Pennsylvania lawmakers to allocate $15 million a year for the next five years to help counties with the expense of buying the new voting systems. The total cost is estimated at between $125 million and $150 million, and counties will have to pay for what is not covered by state and federal funds.
Lycoming County Elections Director Forrest Lehman told the committee the process is not going as smoothly as it could have gone. Some counties are struggling to meet the deadline and may not be ready in April 2020 but in November instead, he said.
“The timeline that was set up has not worked to our interest,” Lehman said. “I do think it’s important for all the counties to explain that this process has been damaging to us, damaging to our policy planning, to our capital budgeting.”
Lehman said county officials have some concerns they feel should be addressed.
“One, there is no formal declassification process in the election code,” Lehman said. “This is all up to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s discretion and the Department of State’s discretion. If they go to decertify a voting system, what is the process that gets followed?”
Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, asked why the counties could not go back to paper and pencil. That option denies access to voters with disabilities, said Jonathan Marks, deputy secretary for elections and commissions.
“What the new equipment does, it provides the assurance and the auditability of the voter verified paper ballot, but it doesn’t take away the technology that makes it easier to count votes,” Marks said. “That reduces a lot of the subjectivity in determining voter intent.”
Five counties have gone through the Secretary of State's certification process for their voting systems, and a sixth one is being tested, said acting Secretary of the State Kathy Boockvar. More than 50 counties plan to have a new, certified voting system in place by 2020, she told the committee.
Many of the county voting systems are more than 12 years old, and some are more than 30 years old, which was before security standards were created, she said.
Boockvar encouraged lawmakers to approve funding for the new machines and give counties “the financial support they need and deserve.”