Luzerne County election bureau Director Marisa Crispell recently informed the election board about a new voting machine system she’d like the county to acquire.
Crispell said she hosted a demonstration of new voting machines from two vendors at a July 27 presentation to which representatives from every county in the state were invited. And she noted that ES&S — the company that supplied the county’s 10-year-old iVotronic machines — recently had a new voting system certified for use in Pennsylvania.
With that system, voters cast their votes on a touch screen, as they currently do in Luzerne County, but the system prints out a paper copy of the ballot cast by each voter. After checking the printout to make sure the votes were correctly cast, the voter feeds the printout into a scanner, which electronically records the votes, and the paper copies of each ballot are retained in a ballot box, Crispell said.
“It’s interesting that instead of avoiding paper, they’re going back to (using it),” said board member Anne Davies.
“There is a big demand for a paper trail,” Crispell replied.
Crispell said Luzerne County hasn’t had any inexplicable issues with the votes being recorded incorrectly. She said the only problem in that regard has been caused by a bad calibration on a touch-screen voting machine, when “it’s not registering where your pressure point is correctly.”
If a voting machine has a bad calibration, it can interpret a vote cast for one candidate as a vote cast for a different candidate.
Crispell said all the voting machines are cleaned and calibrated prior to being delivered to polling places before each election.
“By the time it gets broken down at the warehouse, rumbled across concrete floors onto the moving trucks, down bumpy roads and unloaded … calibration can be lost,” Crispell said, adding that aging of the machines also factors in to lost calibration.
“We were actually receiving a lot of (reports of) calibration issues about three years ago, so we had all of the motherboard batteries replaced, because that is an indication your motherboard battery is going — lost calibration,” - she said, noting that dust and condensation at the warehouse also contribute to the problem.
ES&S, the machine manufacturer with which Luzerne County has a maintenance contract, will be coming here in September to clean the space between the touch screen and the “behind-the-scenes screen” that contains the pinpoints that register a person’s touch on each machine. That type of cleaning hasn’t been performed before on the machines, she said.
“So, hopefully, for November, our calibration issues will decline even more. But because they’re aging machines, we’re going to have issues like that, which is why counties are looking at new machines,” Crispell said.
Electronic poll books
Crispell said ES&S also makes electronic poll books.
Poll books are the large books at voting sites that contain the names, addresses and parties of each registered voter in the district. Voters must sign their names in these books before being allowed to cast their ballots.
“I want the electronic poll book,” Crispell told the board, adding that other counties have been using them for years.
The county’s entire voter database can be downloaded to the electronic poll book, which is actually a type of electronic tablet, somewhat similar in looks to an iPad or similar hand-held device.
“So when you go in to vote, they type in your name and search for it. Say, for instance, they don’t find you. They can then search countywide to see if maybe you’re registered in another district. If you are registered in another district and you don’t know where that polling place is, they can hit ‘print’ and on a little piece of tape are your directions to that polling place,” Crispell said.
Searches could also be done statewide, she said.
“It’s going to eliminate a lot of Election Day calls into our office,” Crispell said, noting that the office receives many calls from judges of election asking to verify voters’ registration, and often times, they get busy signals or must hold for lengthy amounts of time.
But with electronic poll books, judges of election “are able to do customer service at that table. It gives the information at your fingertips,” she said.
Crispell said electronic poll books can also eliminate one particular form of voter fraud in primary elections, when voters can only vote for candidates in their registered party.
She presented a hypothetical situation in which a Democrat decided he wanted to vote for a Republican candidate in the primary election but found the deadline had passed to change his party registration.
Currently, a poll worker is supposed to hand the voter a card indicating he is a registered Democrat, as reflected in the poll book. The voter is supposed to hand the card to the voting machine operator, who would then insert the proper box into the voting machine that tells the machine to bring up the Democrat ballot, rather than the Republican ballot.
“But, we can’t guarantee that that poll worker is issuing the correct ballot (card) for that voter. They are given Democrat and Republican cards, which the board members are supposed to hand to the voter. I had reports that some districts didn’t hand out cards and that (poll workers) were just asking the voter what their party was,” Crispell said.
With the electronic poll book, voters would sign their name on the screen, and a bar code would print on a piece of paper. The voter would hand the paper with the bar code to the machine operator, who would feed it into a scanner on the machine and the machine would pull up the correct party ballot.
“There is no way that a poll worker can change a voter’s party or you (the voter) can change your party” at the polls, Crispell said.
The electronic poll book system is due to be certified for use by the end of the year, Crispell said, and at that point a price would be released.
Crispell said that if the county purchased a new system from ES&S, the county wouldn’t be stuck with 865 old voting machines because ES&S also has a buy-back program. And, she noted, the company now also has a leasing program.
The board also acknowledged receipt of five ballot questions on from the county council on proposed county charter amendments, and one from the Pennsylvania Department of State on raising the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 75.
Crispell addressed questions from resident Brian Shiner about “plain English” versions of the questions.
The questions will appear on the ballot, and will be posted on brightly colored paper along with plain English statements at three different locations at each polling place polling, she said.
“The plain English statement is something voters can look at before getting to the machine,” she said.
Every recipient of an absentee ballot also will receive a copy of the same information to be posted at the polling sites, Crispell said.
She anticipates mailing out about 9,000 absentee ballots for the November election and predicts the cost for postage will probably double, with the additional pages explaining the ballot questions included. Mailing an absentee ballot alone costs 64 cents, she said.
Board solicitor Michael Butera said he and Crispell anticipate “a very heavy turnout and a lot of absentee ballots. She’s had a tremendous amount of requests for military ballots already. It’s going to be a heck of an election,” he said.