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Audit Finds Officials In 18 PA Counties Accepted Gifts From Voting Machine Vendors

voting_election_vote_ballot.jpg
Mel Evans
/
AP
Computer mouse pads with Secure the Vote logo on them are seen on a vendor's table at a convention of state secretaries of state Saturday, July 14, 2018, in Philadelphia.

Officials in 18 Pennsylvania counties accepted gifts, such as wine festival tickets, trips and dinners at high-end restaurants, from voting equipment vendors ahead of the 2020 election, according to the state auditor general.

The office of Eugene DePasquale said Friday that the findings come after a December report that the director of elections in Luzerne County accepted trips from a vendor, before selecting that same vendor for voting equipment.

Other counties where officials reportedly accepted gifts include:

  • Berks
  • Bucks
  • Butler
  • Cambria
  • Cameron
  • Clearfield
  • Clinton
  • Delaware
  • Elk
  • Forest
  • Lycoming
  • Northumberland
  • Potter
  • Warren
  • Washington
  • Westmoreland
  • York

“It doesn’t matter if the gifts were large or small – my problem is the fact that anyone accepted them, period,” DePasquale said in a press release. “I’ll be referring my findings to the state Ethics Commission for further review.”
Experts have urged Pennsylvania to replace its voting machines ahead of the 2020 election, saying the current models are too vulnerable to hacking attempts.

Acting state Secretary Kathy Bookvar told state senators earlier this week that failing to replace voting machines by 2020 could make Pennsylvania the only state without a voter-verifiable paper trail.

DePasquale says that officials are bound to each county’s rules, but must still follow Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act.

Under section 1103 of the Ethics Act, titled “Restricted Activities,” it’s stated that “No public official, public employee or nominee or candidate for public office shall solicit or accept anything of monetary value, including a gift, loan, political contribution, reward or promise of future employment, based on any understanding of that public official, public employee or nominee that the vote, official action or judgment of the public official or public employee or nominee or candidate for public office would be influenced thereby.”

It's unclear what -- if any -- reprocussions these officials will face, but DePasquale says he is pushing for stronger state rules about officials accepting and reporting gifts. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.
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