Pa. House plans funding for voting machine bill, with conditions

Wolf's office hasn't said what he plans to do with the bill. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Wolf's office hasn't said what he plans to do with the bill. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Lawmakers are on track to give Democratic Governor Tom Wolf even more money than he asked for to fund voting machine improvements. However, it will come with conditions.

Many of Pennsylvania’s voting machines only record votes electronically. That makes it almost impossible to double-check tallies, and led to the commonwealth settling a lawsuit last year that accused it of being susceptible to election tampering.

There’s no evidence tampering happened.

But Governor Wolf promised to update the machines by 2020 anyway. It’s an expensive undertaking, so in his budget proposal earlier this year, he asked the legislature to give counties $75 million over five years to help pay for it.

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Republicans have been on the fence about whether all the machines need upgrades. But GOP Appropriations Committee Chair Stan Saylor said Wednesday, his caucus has decided to back a bill that gives counties $90 million — enough to cover up to 60 percent of the cost of updating the machines.

“We want to be helpful to the county commissioners with these voting machines, since we were the ones who decided they were not proper,” Saylor said.

But funding isn’t the only thing in the bill. Saylor’s Democratic counterpart, Matt Bradford, said some of its other provisions are deal breakers for his caucus.

In particular, he opposes a change that would take away the option to quickly vote a straight party. Instead, voters would have to individually select all the candidates for whom they want to cast ballots.

“There were obviously concerns that instead of this being an opportunity to help our counties, it would be used as a Christmas tree, putting a lot of initiatives in that had not had hearings or been properly vetted,” Bradford said.

The bill will still need to pass the full House and Senate.

Senate leaders and a spokesman for Wolf said they are still reviewing it.

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