CLEARFIELD – Gov. Tom Wolf’s Administration recently issued a directive for Pennsylvania counties to upgrade to new voting machines by the end of 2019.
The new machines must be “voter-verifiable paper record voting systems.” The commonwealth will receive around $14 million in federal funding to assist its counties.
The directive will pose a significant financial challenge for counties, including Clearfield, said Commissioner John A. Sobel, chair, on Tuesday.
According to him, the county last replaced its voting machines in 2005 or 2006 when it switched over to an electronic system due to changes in technology.
He said there was a “great deal” of funding to assist counties back then, but there isn’t nearly enough being made available this time around.
“It’s going to fall upon the counties’ budgets and ultimately the taxpayers,” Sobel said, adding that the commissioners wanted to let the public know.
Sobel went on to explain that the Department of State’s directive was the result of concerns following the last U.S. presidential election in 2016.
“There were concerns about outside entities, individuals and foreign governments tapping the U.S. electoral system and influencing the outcome,” he said.
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken indicated that the new voting machines must be in place by the end of 2019. He pointed out that the next presidential election is the following year.
He said the counties have a short timeframe to work with while it’s already mid-2018. He said Clearfield County didn’t have plans to replace its voting machines, which are still “highly functional,” and hasn’t been setting aside funding to do so.
McCracken said while the federal government is making $14 million available to Pennsylvania, it will not even be a “drop in the hat” for what it will cost all 67 counties.
He said it could cost the county up to $1 million to replace its voting machines under the DOS’ directive. McCracken said he has plans to meet with the county’s vendor at a demo in Elk County.
“It’s just another unfunded mandate being shoved down the counties’ throats,” said Commissioner Tony Scotto. “The county has always ensured the operations of its elections.”
The commissioners said they will continue to explore the county’s options under the directive and lobby for more state and federal funding.
According to a DOS press release, officials are “committed to working with the legislature to help fund these voting system upgrades, including but not limited to the consideration of future year cost-sharing arrangements, which could use local, state and federal dollars.”
The DOS has released an Invitation For Bid (IFB) for new voting systems, directing that new systems meet enhanced security and auditability standards.
The IFB updated an existing state-negotiated agreement with vendors and can be used by counties to purchase voting systems that meet the department’s certification requirements.
According to the press release, the DOS is also exploring every option to help fund or finance the upgrades, including lease agreements, grant opportunities, state, local and additional federal appropriations, partnerships, bonds and more.
Counties will be able to choose from among any of the voting systems examined and certified after Jan. 1, 2018, by both the federal Election Assistance Commission and the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
To date, one system has been certified, and several others will follow in the summer and fall of 2018. Information regarding the examination and certification process (PDF) can be found on the department’s Web site.
DOS officials said they will provide “extensive support and guidance to the county Boards of Election and voters to ensure a smooth transition to the new systems.”