Philadelphia Mayor, Controller Clash On New Voting Machines

The city controller believes the selection committee rushed the process and wound up choosing a more costly and less secure solution, while the mayor is standing by the process and decision.

by Jonathan Lai, The Philadelphia Inquirer / May 7, 2019
Philadelphia City Hall Shutterstock/Marco Rubino

(TNS) — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has defended the selection of new touchscreen voting machines for the city's elections, saying it was a good decision that was made properly.

“I believe that we’ve done a good job,” he told the Inquirer Editorial Board on Wednesday, "because the people involved in it did due diligence, looked at it seriously, and selected what we think — what they think is the best, and I trust their judgment.”

Kenney said that he had not been personally involved in the selection — “if you’re mayor, you shouldn’t go near or touch a contract or the deliberation on those contracts” — but that he trusted the selection process and the people involved.

It was his first comment on a decision that for months has been criticized by city and state watchdogs and advocates for hand-marked paper ballots. They say the new systems were chosen too quickly by the city commissioners in an opaque process biased toward a system they say is costlier and less secure than others.

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart has been one of the most outspoken critics, and Kenney pushed back at her last week.

“We believe we’re right,” Kenney told Philly Magazine in an interview Thursday. “We think she’s wrong; we did our due diligence. I don’t know what her problem is.”

In an emailed statement Monday, Rhynhart said she has “serious questions and concerns” about the voting machine selection process.

“Because of this, a full investigation is currently underway by my office,” she wrote. “I’m not sure why the mayor is making this personal; this is about what the residents of this city deserve. I’m focused on doing my job, making sure laws and processes are followed and tax dollars are not wasted.”

Rhynhart had urged the commissioners to slow their decision-making process before their vote Feb. 20 for the ExpressVote XL system from vendor ES&S. After that decision, she called on the elections officials to restart their process and persuaded one commissioner to come out against the selection.

As part of her investigation, she has subpoenaed city officials for documents from the selection process and said she would block funding for the new systems until she is certain that everything is above board.

The Kenney administration has been at the heart of the selection process and contract negotiations.

While the city commissioners who picked the machines are independently elected, their choice of system came only after a selection committee — overseen by Kenney’s procurement department — made recommendations. The membership of that committee is confidential, but along with representatives from the commissioners and City Council, it included representatives from the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology and Office of Economic Opportunity.

The commissioners’ vote alone does not make the machines appear. Since it involves funding, City Council, Rhynhart, and Kenney all play roles in making the new voting systems a reality.

Since the commissioners’ selection of the ExpressVote XL system, the procurement department and the city Law Department have been negotiating a contract with ES&S.

©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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