Paper Ballots Are Making a Comeback in Bucks County, Pa.

The county has plans to buy new voting machines that will produce a physical ballot for each vote cast. The move comes after Gov. Tom Wolf set a statewide goal last year to only use machines that create a paper trail.

by Chris Ullery, The intelligencer / August 5, 2019
Shutterstock/Eileen Salazar

(TNS) — Bucks County officials say they will purchase new voting machines that produce paper ballots and have them ready for the polls by next year's presidential primaries.

While they have yet to purchase new machines, the county in a news release said it "expects to select and have a new system in place by the time of the 2020 primary." Previously, county officials had not committed to buying a new system, only saying they we reviewing their options.

Voters will have a third and final chance to see potential new voting machines in action and offer comments later this month.

The Aug. 19 demonstration at the Bucks County Community College Newtown Township campus from 5 to 8 p.m. will feature models from five manufacturers that create paper ballot copies of each vote cast.

This is the third demonstration the county has held since December as officials research the new machines to meet a deadline set by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of State last year. Wolf set a goal for all counties to switch out machines that only used digital memory in favor of machines that made a paper trail by the 2020 General Election.

Election security and concerns over hacking were primary motivators for Wolf's announcement last spring. Statewide, the initiative could cost upward of $90 million.

More than half of the state's 67 counties have purchased new voting machines since the state set its mandate. Montgomery County rolled out their new machines made by Dominion for the May primary. Officials spent $5.8 million to upgrade to machines that produce paper ballots.

Pennsylvania has $14.15 million to upgrade voting machines, which is made up of $13.5 million from the federal government's $380 million available for election security nationwide and a 5% state match.

Wolf has also begun pursuing a $90 million bond to help ease the cost burden on counties trying to comply the unfunded mandate.

A General Assembly bill authorizing the governor to seek out a loan was vetoed by Wolf on July 5, a bill Wolf said included changes to the state's election laws he would not approve. Days later, he said he wanted to move forward with the bonding with out legislative approval, a move lawmakers questioned.

The bond issue would reimburse each county for 60% of their cost, according to Wolf's administration, which provided little detail about the financing it will seek or the timeline for the move. Bucks County officials did not give an estimate of how much it will cost to replace the voting machines.

While Bucks County might be behind other counties in the switch, that might be to its advantage.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that many counties in the state, and the majority of voting districts nationwide, are using machines with software approaching the end of its life.

Windows 7 or older operating systems are used by many machines to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

Microsoft will stop providing free technical support and upgrades for Windows 7 early next year, which could leave those machines vulnerable to hacking.

Like in that first demonstration in the county last December, representatives of Unisyn Voting Solutions, Domonion Voting Systems, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic and Clear Ballot Group will be available to answer questions at the upcoming session.

Dominion, ES&S and Hart collectively make up more than 90% of election systems across the country, but only Dominion's newer systems won't be affected by the Windows 7 change, the Associated Press reported.

Hart's systems run on a different Windows-based operating system that will be at the end of its life on Oct. 13, 2020 — weeks before the 2020 election. ES&S has said it will be working with Microsoft to provide support to older machines until those jurisdictions can switch to other machines.

A review by this news organization of voting machine certification documents on the state department's website shows only one certified model by Dominion, which uses Windows 10.

All of the machines to be displayed in Bucks County received state and federal certification within the last year, according to certification information on the state department's website.

A Clear Ballot model approved in March uses Windows 10 Pro, while two machines from Unisyn do not use any Microsoft operating systems.

State certification documents also include several conditions, one of which prohibits the machines from connecting to any "modem or network interface" or the Internet at any time.

If the county does move ahead with the purchase, it would be its first new voting machines in 13 years.

In 2006, Bucks County spent about $4 million to upgrade its 900 lever machines and officials have said there have been no security issues. Federal funds helped defray some of the county's costs. Members and supporters of the group SAVE-Bucks Votes have urged the county commissioners to replace the machines with a voter-marked, paper-based optical scan (PBOS) system.

A map of the college at 275 Swamp Road in Newtown Township with directions to the Gallagher Room in the Charles E. Rollins Center is available at www.buckscounty.org.

©2019 The Intelligencer, Doylestown, Pa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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