Clearfield County Mulling Options for New Voting System

CLEARFIELD – State officials are mandating counties to be equipped with new voting systems, leaving the Clearfield County Commissioners to choose a system and figure out how it will be paid for.

According to previously-published GANT News reports, nationwide, there is bipartisan agreement that, in the interest of security, Direct Recording Electronic voting machines (DREs), still in use in most Pennsylvania counties, should be replaced.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Senate and House Intelligence Committees, along with many experts, are urging states to convert to new systems that produce paper records.

In April of 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of State advised county officials it was mandating them to purchase new voting machines that can provide verifiable paper records and advanced security.

Counties can only choose from the limited number of paper-record voting systems that have both state and federal certifications. Currently, four systems have attained certification; another is in the process, and testing of an additional system will begin later this month.

Dominion Voting Systems’ Democracy Suite 5.5-A was certified Jan. 17. The Unisyn Voting Solutions OpenElect 1.3.0.2A, Unisyn Voting Solutions OpenElect 2.0A2 and ES&S EVS 6.0.2.1 systems were certified in 2018.

A system must meet both federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) standards and the DOS updated security and accessibility standards to receive certification. The state certification allows procurement of the system by any Pennsylvania county.

Amid uncertainties on how much state and federal funding will be available to defray costs for the new voting machines, the Clearfield County Commissioners have had demos from three vendors offering similar options.

The cost will depend upon which system the county chooses, said Commissioner Mark McCracken on Tuesday. The first and least expensive option, at approximately $375,000, is a paper ballot with results tabulated at the election office.

The second option is a paper ballot with results tabulated by a device at each precinct. The third and most expensive option is to equip precincts with touchscreen election machines that print a paper ballot.

McCracken said he’s contacted the vendors and asked each to submit updated proposals with options to either purchase the chosen system upfront or to do a purchase/lease agreement over a period of five years.

He said the county only allocated $190,000 in the current-year’s budget for the new voting equipment, and it will not be enough regardless of which option the commissioners go with.

According to the commissioners, Gov. Tom Wolf has already committed approximately $14 million in federal and state funding to help counties purchase the new voting systems. He’s also pledged to work with the General Assembly to attain more state funding for at least half of the counties’ cost.

Commissioner John A. Sobel said he can recall the days of paper ballots, and thought it was something to consider, especially with cost being a major factor. He added he wasn’t as averse to this system as others because “it did work.”

Scotto said “everybody” – from the governor to state and federal officials – wanted the paper record voting system, and it was time for them to give the counties a hand with 50 to 75 percent of the funding.

To further complicate matters, Sobel also pointed out that a Pennsylvania lawmaker plans to propose legislation that would prevent Wolf from mandating counties to purchase new voting machines.

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