New voting systems about to launch in more than half of Pennsylvania counties

The vast majority of Pa. voters will fill out ballots by hand Nov. 5. In the past, direct-recording electronic machines dominated.

(Map by Tom Downing/WITF, database by Emily Previti/PA Post)

(Map by Tom Downing/WITF, database by Emily Previti/PA Post)

Updated election systems will be in place for two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters in time for next month’s election.

Some counties had purchased voting machines more than a decade ago and were already looking into upgrades before the state decided last year to mandate a mass replacement by all 67 counties.

The deadline to comply isn’t until the presidential primary scheduled for April 28, 2020.

But officials from many counties have said they prefer to launch their new machines during the November municipal elections, since the lower turnout makes any kinks easier to work out and less disruptive to voters and elections staff.

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They also note the state hasn’t determined where it will get the money to partially reimburse counties as promised — and that’s caused some officials to hold off on their decision. Another factor contributing to delays is the difficult task of negotiating relatively complex contracts with election technology vendors. One sticking point has been the potential costs of dealing with software security holes that are discovered in the future.

Ultimately, more than two-thirds of Pennsylvania counties will have implemented their new voting systems by next month: Voters in 35 counties will use the new machines for the first time in the November 5 election; ten had launched their upgraded machines for prior elections.

Half of the remaining 22 counties already have contracts in place, are negotiating them, or know what kind of machines they want to acquire.

Voters will fill out ballots by hand Nov. 5 in more than three-quarters of counties. A handful already used that method. But the vast majority are switching from touchscreen machines that recorded and stored votes electronically, according to a PA Post analysis.

This mass upgrade was brought on by a lawsuit filed by 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s campaign over vulnerabilities in Pennsylvania’s election system. Stein’s camp also sued Wisconsin and Michigan for similar reasons.

The lawsuit settlement requires new voting systems to have paper ballots that voters can verify before casting, and that counties can retain for post-election auditing.

Counties could choose to buy voting machines from one of five vendors certified by the Department of State.

Election watchdogs challenged the certification of one machine – the ExpressVote XL from Election Systems & Software – last summer.

DoS upheld its approval (with conditions) after re-examining the machine – but critics say that process was far less transparent than usual.

Stein’s lawyers cited the “secrecy” of the re-examination and similar concerns about the XL two weeks ago when they moved to reopen the case.

Counties have picked ES&S more than any other vendor. While only three chose the company’s XL model, those counties — Philadelphia, Northampton and Cumberland – represent nearly 20 percent of registered voters in the state.

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