‘Like taking a test,’ some Pa. voters move to paper with new voting machines

Montgomery County voters will using a new voting system this year. Paper ballots will be filled out and then fed into a scanning machine where they will be read and stored. (Courtesy of Montgomery County administrative office)

Montgomery County voters will using a new voting system this year. Paper ballots will be filled out and then fed into a scanning machine where they will be read and stored. (Courtesy of Montgomery County administrative office)

Several Pennsylvania counties debuted new voting machines Tuesday as part of a statewide upgrade stemming from a lawsuit settlement and mandate from Gov. Tom Wolf.  

Tykia Turner, who voted Tuesday at Temple Brith Achim Synagogue in Upper Merion Township, said the new process of marking paper ballots by hand and feeding them into a scanner does take a bit more time, but doesn’t think it will deter voters.

“You figure, the way that they used to do it, you come in, you push a button, you cast your vote, you’re done,” Turner said. “This time, you have to actually take the time to make sure you’re filling in the right bubbles. And that’s it. So, it’s almost like taking a test or filling out one of those little ballots to play the Powerball.”

Voter Jeff Frank had some criticisms, though, after a delayed start there this morning and a scanner malfunction.

Frank said the system seems more cumbersome than the old push-button machines, particularly for people who are older or have poor vision. He worries voters could be discouraged during higher turnout elections.

“Voting should be simple and expedient and get you on your way and give you a good feeling [that] you did a good thing for your country and for yourself,” he said. “Voting here, you feel like you wasted your time. I should be able to vote in 30 seconds.”

Election Judge Kevin Skoglund said more ballots can be processed simultaneously with the new setup, though each voter has to spend a little longer marking a ballot.

Skoglund noted there is assistance, including touch-screen ADA-compliant machines, available for those who need it.

“I’m very thankful they decided to do this in a low turnout election when we could all get comfortable … instead of trying to do it next year [during a presidential election],” Skoglund said.

Gov. Wolf’s demand for new machines by 2020 has drawn some criticism.

Of the counties that debuted new machines Tuesday, most went with upgraded versions of what they’d already been using. But Montgomery and Crawford counties switched to an entirely different method of voting, buying machines from Dominion Voting Systems.

Crawford’s going with touch-screen machines that print an individual paper ballot each voter can verify on the spot.

Rose Sherman also voted Tuesday in Upper Merion, as she has for five decades. She said this system seems more secure.

“I don’t want anybody interfering in our elections,” Sherman said. “This seems to be an older way, … everything was scanned, and there’s proof that of how we voted.”

County officials and poll watchers said voting started about 10 minutes late at a dozen of nearly 400 polling locations throughout Montgomery County, though one delay was reportedly 45 minutes long.

A county spokesman attributes that mainly to the learning curve associated with the new system.

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