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New Voting Machines Go On Display; Counties Search For Ways To Pay

Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania is starting the process of replacing its voting machines. And at the state Farm Show complex this week, election administrators and the public got a chance to see what the new ones might look like.

The display comes soon after Governor Tom Wolf handed down a mandate that all counties upgrade their election equipment by the end of next year, leaving officials scrambling to figure out how to afford it.

Most of the current election machines are totally electronic. That became a point of concern in the wake of the 2016 elections, when federal officials told the state that the system had been targeted by hackers.

The new options vary, but all would produce a paper trail—making election results easier to verify.

The federal government is chipping in around $13.5 million for upgrades.  

But Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Robert Torres estimated new machines would retail between about $100 million and $150 million.

That leaves counties to foot the rest of the bill, and many say it won’t be easy.

Philadelphia city commissioners have already announced they won’t meet the deadline.

Torres said the administration is trying to find a solution.

“We’ve had discussions with Philadelphia, and it’s something where we plan to work with the counties.” He said. “We’re trying to be as sensitive as we can with the timing.”

He also said the administration is trying to convince the legislature to route more money into the election upgrades to ease the counties’ burden.

Shari Brewer, a Butler County election official, said what would really help is updating the election law to make things more efficient.

“If we could go to voting centers instead of having a precinct in every municipality, we could decrease the amount of equipment we would have to purchase,” she said.

She also advocated expanding mail-in ballots, and generally making the system more automatic.

The potential election machine vendors have to be certified by both the federal and state government.

Only one has the state certification so far.