Potential new Luzerne County voting machines under review

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
This paper-trail voting system, shown at a public expo at the Luzerne County Courthouse in February, is among several now under review by a county committee that will be recommending a system for purchase. File photo This paper-trail voting system, shown at a public expo at the Luzerne County Courthouse in February, is among several now under review by a county committee that will be recommending a system for purchase. - File photo

A Luzerne County voting machine selection committee met twice last week to start reviewing options for a new paper-trail system mandated by the state, members said.

Only three of five vendors are now in the running because two did not participate in the committee’s mandatory demonstration — Clear Ballot Group and Unisyn Voting Solutions, said county Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik, who serves on the committee.

The remaining machine suppliers under consideration: Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems and Software (ES&S) and Hart InterCivic.

The Pennsylvania Department of State told counties in April 2018 they have until the end of 2019 to select new voting systems with a paper record that can be verified by voters and kept in case tallies are questioned. The new systems are to be in use no later than the April 2020 primary, and preferably by this year’s November general election, the state said.

County Manager C. David Pedri wanted to try to have the new system operational for this year’s general election so it won’t be used for the first time in the 2020 presidential primary, when turnout is expected to be significantly higher.

Under the general election activation timeline, the committee would have to present a recommendation to council in July instead of holding off until as late as September as originally planned, he has said.

However, Parsnik said last week he does not believe it will be possible to implement a new system in November — even if council is able to approve a purchase and identify funding in time.

After discussions with the three vendors at last week’s presentation, Parsnik said he learned extensive poll worker training and public education would be necessary.

“It wouldn’t turn out well if we tried to rush it,” Parsnik said.

Pedri also said he is still awaiting word on what, if any, funding will be provided by the state to offset the county’s costs.

According to a recent Associated Press article, Republican lawmakers are refusing to earmark $15 million Gov. Tom Wolf requested to help counties fund their machine purchases.

To date, the county received a pledge of $327,000 in federal funding toward the purchase of a system, which had been estimated to cost $4 million, officials have said.

Based on the proposals that been submitted by the county’s May 10 deadline and are still under review, Parsnik said he believes that cost estimate is still accurate.

Committee members are completing evaluation forms of each system critiquing their function, ease of use, equipment and cost, Parsnik said.

There are two ways to meet the paper-trail requirement — filling in ovals on actual paper or making selections on a computerized ballot-marking device similar to the current system, with the difference that voters must receive a paper printout to verify their selections.

The paper ballots or printouts are then fed into a tabulator to be read and saved.

At a public demonstration in February, several citizens said they prefer a system allowing voters to continue making their selections on touchscreens.

Committee members will soon meet again to review and discuss their evaluations, Parsnik said. Three other employees and five citizens are on the committee.

Council has final say on the system selection and is not required to accept the committee’s recommendation, Pedri has said.

This paper-trail voting system, shown at a public expo at the Luzerne County Courthouse in February, is among several now under review by a county committee that will be recommending a system for purchase.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/web1_TTL022819VotingMachines_3.jpgThis paper-trail voting system, shown at a public expo at the Luzerne County Courthouse in February, is among several now under review by a county committee that will be recommending a system for purchase. File photo

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.