To Meet State Voting Standards, a Pennsylvania County Moves to Auditable Machines

Under a directive signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, Westmoreland County is making a $3 million move to voting machines that produce a paper trail this summer.

by Rich Cholodofsky, Tribune-Review / April 5, 2018
Shutterstock

(TNS) — Westmoreland County voters will be able to test voting machines this summer that would enable election officials to meet a state directive that requires new devices to have a verifiable paper trail.

While officials cautioned they have no concrete plan to replace more than 850 touchscreen voting computers the county purchased 13 years ago, they said preliminary work is underway in preparation for a potential purchase of new machines.

“Our machines are old, but they work well. But like everything else, they have a life cycle,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas. “We are doing our homework now to find a replacement.”

In 2005, the county used $3 million from a federal grant to buy a touchscreen computer voting system to replace lever voting booths that had been used for a half-century.

While the lever machines were antiquated, elections officials could double-check vote totals by examining gears on back of them.

The current models, which have no such fail safe, record votes by electronically uploading results to the county's computer network. There is no paper trail and no way to check that a vote was correctly recorded by the machine, said Beth Lechman, director of the county's election bureau.

Lechman said she has seen no indication that Westmoreland's machines are not accurate.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a directive in February that all new voting machines purchased in Pennsylvania produce a paper trail so that vote tallies can be checked. The state is seeking bids from vendors that sell machines that meet that requirement.

Most Pennsylvania counties use computerized voting machines, according a study released in December by the General Assembly. Four counties, including Fayette, have systems that utilize both computers and paper ballots, while about a dozen mostly rural counties use only paper ballots

“I assume the county would continue to use our machines if we didn't have that directive from the state,” Lechman said.

That directive doesn't order Westmoreland County and others to buy new machines. But when counties do, the machines must have paper documentation to audit Election Day findings.

Kopas said Westmoreland likely will buy new machines only if state or federal funding is available to pay for them. Still, officials are planning ahead in case they decide to purchase a new voting system.

Lechman said certified vendors will be asked to present new voting systems to the commissioners this summer and offer demonstrations for the public.

“We want the public to come in and view the equipment,” she said.

©2018 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.