New Voting Machines
The single most important thing the General Assembly can do to improve election security is to help all 67 counties buy new, modern and secure voting systems to replace those that are now almost 20 years old.
We understand the fiscal challenges our state faces. We also believe that nothing is more fundamental to the way our government operates than demonstrating to the public that their votes indeed are being captured and counted as intended, that the outcomes are correct, and that our elections are secure.
In December 2017, a nonpartisan advisory committee to the Joint State Government Commission released a report, “Voting Technology in Pennsylvania,” that emphasized the need for the state to provide that funding, noting that “jurisdictions would not be able to maintain their current electronic voting systems for much longer due to the age of the machines, the scarcity of parts, and the costs of repairs and maintenance.”
In January 2018, all 67 Pennsylvania counties signed on to a letter outlining seven priorities for 2018, including voting system maintenance. The counties noted that “most voting equipment is at the end of its useful life and will need to be replaced in the next few years. These replacement costs can quickly add up, with nearly 40,000 voting machines operated by our counties and the latest computerized machines costing between $2,500 and $3,000 each --- not including programming, supplies and maintenance. … We will need state and federal assistance to continue to uphold our responsibility for a fair and accessible voting system.”
The Pennsylvania Department of State in April announced a decision to decertify certain aging voting machines and have counties put in place voter-verifiable paper record voting systems before 2020. Pennsylvania is one of 13 states that use paperless Direct Recording Electronic voting machines --- which directly record votes in electronic form --- in at least some of its precincts, according to the Brennan Center.
More than $14.5 million in federal and state funds will be available initially to help counties make the switch. Although more funding will be needed to fully assist all 67 counties --- maybe as much as $125 million to replace approximately 24,000 voting machines, by some estimates --- this appropriation is an important first step.
Other states are taking action. Most recently, the Ohio Senate approved a bill that would appropriate $114.5 million to its counties for new voting machines.
The administration and legislature will need to work with counties and county election coordinators to secure future year cost-sharing arrangements using local, state and federal dollars, or through lease agreements, grant opportunities, loans, appropriations, or other options, to put in place new, secure, accessible and modern voting systems.