Board of Elections Selects New Paper Ballot Voting System, Holds Off on Vendor Contract

CLEARFIELD – Clearfield County’s Board of Elections selected a new voting system Tuesday that complies with updated security standards.

The new system will consist of a paper ballot that will be completed and inserted into a tabulation machine at the precinct; this machine will be monitored by a poll worker. A handicapped accessible voting machine will also be available.

The other two options were a paper ballot with results tabulated at the Elections Office at the end of the evening and a touchscreen system that printed a paper ballot that would in turn be fed into a tabulation device at the precinct.

Prior to the board’s vote, Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said he preferred the touchscreen system because it was most technologically up to date and very similar to the county’s existing system, only with a back-up paper ballot.

Both Commissioners John A. Sobel, chairman, and Tony Scotto liked the paper ballot system with the precinct tabulation machine.

Scotto said every vote should count, and this option notified voters of any issues with their ballot and permitted them to make any necessary corrections.

He said too often voters leave their polling place thinking they have cast their ballots properly when in reality they have not.

Scotto also pointed out that when the county becomes more financially able, it can always add on and update the system with touchscreen machines.

Sobel said in this day in age, people’s lives are so influenced by technology, but now to his surprise something old – paper ballots – is suddenly new again and not so bad.

He said what he liked most about this option centered around the words “voter verification,” which gives voters the confidence that “their vote counts.”

“… They will get to see it accepted, then collected right there at the precinct,” Sobel said, adding this made it a very valid option, especially when you consider cost as another factor.

McCracken said the entire point of implementing a new voting system was to get a clearly-verifiable paper trail in place, and any of the options would do that.

He said the process itself will be improved with a paper ballot, and if there’s ever a future controversy over results, the elections board will be able to look at scanned images of ballots or physical paper copies.

Though he preferred the touchscreen system, McCracken said the paper ballot option with the precinct tabulation machine was equally as acceptable to him. This option was then unanimously approved by the board.

When asked following the meeting, Sobel said the cost of this system would depend upon the vendor selected, but he estimated that it would be anywhere between $600,000 to $850,000.

Elections Board Holds Off on Vendor

The board, however, postponed its selection of a vendor to provide its new voting system for a myriad of reasons stated during its meeting Tuesday.

Sobel explained that for him personally, there is a wealth of information to examine, and they collectively need to make a “well thought-out and well-informed” decision.

For McCracken, his main concern related to the availability of state funding. According to him, Gov. Tom Wolf has already committed approximately $14 million in federal and state funding to help counties purchase the new voting systems.

He said Wolf has been promising to work with the General Assembly to attain more state funding for at least half of the counties’ cost.

McCracken thought the county should hold off on a vendor contract until this funding was available with “no strings attached.” He said there had been some talks with vendors about making contracts and purchases contingent upon the state funding.

“But I’d feel even more comfortable with waiting to select and sign contracts until that 50 percent in state funding is 100 percent in the budget, and we know that we’re getting it,” he said, adding he was speaking to the county’s state officials and seeking their support.

Solicitor Kim Kesner said the county, like others, was being put under pressure by the commonwealth to implement a new voting system because if they don’t, election results from Clearfield County may not be certified.

He indicated that he wouldn’t approve any form contract from a vendor that isn’t subject to state funding availability and doesn’t provide some type of warranty that the system will work as the county needs it to work.

The board said it intends to notify the Pennsylvania Department of State and its elected state officials that it’s selected a new voting system but will not enter into a contract with a vendor until the state provides the funding.

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 DOS advised county officials it was mandating them to purchase new voting machines that can provide verifiable paper records and advanced security.

According to the previously-published report, counties can only choose from the limited number of paper-record voting systems that have both state and federal certifications.

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.

Counties are being required to select and implement their new voting system no later than the 2020 primary, and preferably by the November of 2019 general election.

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