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Berks County, Pa., Put Voting Machines Through Pre-Election Paces

Election officials in Berks County began the arduous process of testing a warehouse full of voting machines ahead of the November elections. More than 800 machines will be put through their paces in the week-long test.

Virginia voters head into a polling place during the November 2018 midterm elections.
(TNS) — Inside the cavernous warehouse at the Berks County South Campus in Mohnton, the screens of the county's cache of voting machines glowed Monday morning.

They weren't quite yet ready for voters. But in just over a month, they'll be up and running.

And to ensure the voting machines the county will use on Election Day are running properly when they're put into service, they need to be tested. That long and arduous process, which will take about a week, began Monday morning.

County officials invited members of the media to check out the process as it began, saying they wanted to provide as much transparency as possible about how the machines are readied for action.

"This process is important because we have to have confidence that the machines are working properly and have all the information on them before we send them to polling locations," said Stephanie Weaver, county public relations officer. "We have a system of checks and balances that looks at everything from different angles. We have the machines screened, we have the reports, we have the USB sticks.

"So this is really just another layer of confidence that we have to ensure the machines are working correctly before Election Day."

Each of the nearly 800 voting machines the county will use on Nov. 8 will be tested this week. So will the ballot scanners from each of the 202 Berks precincts.

The last piece of equipment to be tested will be the electronic poll books because the county will not have the complete voter registration rolls until after the registration deadline — which is 15 days before Election Day.

"The testing we started doing today ensures that votes are being counted correctly," Weaver said.


The county rolled out the voting machines for the 2019 general election, which allowed people to vote electronically while providing a paper backup of their ballot for the first time.

The county purchased the voting machines to replace the system that had been in place for three decades. The nearly $4.5 million purchase of machines from Election Systems & Software fulfilled a state directive that all election systems produce a paper trail to track ballots. That rule was the result of national concerns about election integrity and Russian-backed hacking attempts in the 2016 presidential election.

The voting machines do not have Wi-Fi capabilities and cannot be connected to the Internet.

The system, ExpressVote, allows voters to use touchscreens to make selections. The machines then print paper ballots that include a barcode and plain text, giving voters a chance to look at the receipt to ensure their vote was recorded correctly.

The barcode is read by a scanner — casting the vote. Administrators are able to look at all the votes on the machine but are unable to match a vote to a person. The ballots are then secured in a bag in the tabulation machine until the polls close.

The judge of elections at each voting precinct removes the bag and securely closes it in the presence of two other poll workers. The judge of elections then takes the bag to the county elections office on Election night.

The plain text version serves as the official record of votes.

The ballots remain in the elections office until the results are certified and then archived.


The Pennsylvania Election Code requires each county to follow a directive issued by the secretary of the commonwealth that all election equipment undergo logic and accuracy testing before an election.

The directive states that the testing is necessary to ensure ballot marking devices and scanners are properly configured and in good working order before being delivered to voting locations.

Those primary goals may be obvious, but there are other benefits of conducting robust testing, the directive says. It provides election officials an important opportunity to identify errors in election and ballot configuration as well as ballot printing errors.

It can also expose inadequate or faulty election supplies, like incorrect paper stock and memory cards that haven't been properly wiped of data and reformatted.


The testing process involves many steps and a team of people.

"We are testing the functionality of the machine, that all the software is downloaded correctly, that the machines are marking the ballots correctly and that the scanners are tabulating the results correctly," said R.F. Shoup, president of Elections USA.

The county has used Elections USA, a Bucks County company that specializes in providing technological support for election systems, to perform the logic and accuracy testing.

The first step in the process is ensuring the ballots are finalized for each precinct. That happens in the elections office on a secure computer that is not connected to the internet. Those ballots are then uploaded on encrypted USB sticks.

Once the ballots are uploaded the tests begin.

Shoup walked members of the press through the process Monday morning.

The testing process includes putting an encrypted USB stick into the machines to upload all the security passwords connected to this particular election. The machine will now know that the next USB stick has to have the appropriate passwords on it in order to successfully download the ballot.

Shoup and his staff check to see that the ballots have been loaded correctly onto the machines, then make selections on the ballot.

They then take the ballot to the scanner belonging to that precinct to be tabulated.

Once ballots from all the machines in a precinct have been scanned, the scanner produces a paper and digital receipt. The digital receipt is uploaded to an encrypted USB stick, which is checked by elections office staff to make sure the results match the votes that were cast.

"It's an intense process," Shoup said. "This will take us more than a week to complete."

After the machines have been successfully tested, they are sealed and considered ready to be delivered. The machines will be moved to polling locations by staff from the county facilities department starting two weeks before the election.

Information about the testing was sent to local members of the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green parties. They were invited to have representatives present when the testing is taking place. No representatives showed up Monday morning.

©2022 the Reading Eagle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.