Pennsylvania County Approves Purchase of New Voting System

Lackawanna County has opted to leave behind its touchscreen voting machines and has approved the purchase of an optical-scan system that uses paper ballots. The new system is identical in functionality.

by David Singleton, The Times-Tribune / December 12, 2019
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(TNS) — Eleven years ago, some Lackawanna County voters encountered a learning curve as the county ditched its touch-screen voting machines in favor of an optical-scan voting system that uses paper ballots.

The transition promises to be easier this time.

The county commissioners Wednesday approved the purchase of a new Election Systems & Software voting system that, while technologically superior to the one county voters have grown accustomed to over the past decade, is virtually identical in its functionality.

Elections Director Marion Medalis recommended the ES&S Model DS200, a precinct-based optical scanner with vote tabulator that supports paper-based voting, to the commissioners.

“The system will be basically the same as we are using now,” Medalis said. “The voters will get a paper ballot, fill in the ovals and drop it in the scanner. ... With that in mind, there should be minimal training for voters.”

The total cost of the system is just under $1.44 million, but county taxpayers will be on the hook for only $625,395.

The purchase will bring the county into compliance with a 2018 directive from the Pennsylvania Department of State that requires all 67 counties to upgrade to voter-verifiable paper record voting systems before the 2020 primary to bolster election security and integrity.

The state agreed to reimburse counties that acted by Dec. 31 to buy new systems 60% of the cost. The county is also receiving $237,385 in federal funding toward the purchase of the new machines.

Purchasing Director Joe Wechsler told the commissioners that is why it was important for the county to complete the purchase by the end of the year.

Medalis said the new equipment, which will include an Americans with Disability Act-compliant touch-screen voting terminal at each polling location in the county, will be in place for the April 26 primary.

Commissioners Patrick O’Malley and Laureen Cummings complimented Medalis for her diligence in reviewing the various systems available to the county.

“Thank you for your work and for getting us a paper ballot again and not going with these digital machines that everybody has been having so many problems with,” Cummings said.

ES&S is one of three vendors under consideration to supply the new voting system in Luzerne County.

Filmmaker Robert Savakinus, who has produced two documentaries on the former Rocky Glen Park, appeared before the commissioners to seek their support for an advisory committee to study the potential for establishing “something like a Rocky Glen amusement-type park in Lackawanna County.”

The Rocky Glen Advisory Committee would work with the county Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Parks and Recreation Department and other county departments, as well as private industry, to gauge interest, he said.

When people consider the county and its recreational amenities, the one thing missing is an amusement park, Savakinus said.

“I think it is something feasible that we might be able to look at,” he said.

All three commissioners were receptive to the idea of establishing an advisory committee, but the board took no immediate formal action.

Resident Joan Hodowanitz questioned the commissioners about a federal lawsuit filed over the operation of the county recycling center. The center is owned by the county but operated by a private company under a 2006 contract with the Solid Waste Authority.

The proposed class action accuses the county of violating federal anti-slavery and labor laws by forcing people jailed at the county prison for failure to pay child support to work at the center for $5 a day.

O’Malley told Hodowanitz the contract was signed long before any of the current commissioners took office and renews automatically.

Although she acknowledged she knows nothing about the merits of the lawsuit’s claims, Hodowanitz called the situation “bothersome” and said someone needs to take a hard look at the contract. Just to say the contract automatically renews “and there is nothing we can do about it” is unacceptable, she said.

“The moral insensitivity of having these people who need to pay down their child support delinquencies working for $5 a day — who came up with that idea and that contract in 2006? ... This offends me more than in my wallet. This is basically wrong and we need an explanation,” Hodowanitz said.

©2019 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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