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New Voting Machines Coming To Pittsburgh, Ahead Of 2020 Primary

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA

Voters were able to cast ballots as many times as their hearts desired on Tuesday. This was not a case of voter fraud, but rather a step toward creating a more secure voting system in Pennsylvania.

It was one of several events scheduled this month by the Allegheny County Division of Elections, which is offering residents a chance to test different voting systems and provide feedback to the department.


Voting machines from Clear Ballot, Dominion Voting, Election Systems & Software, and Hart Intercivic were on display. While each system was different, all had one thing in common: Unlike the county's current machines, they all retained some form of paper record of the votes cast.

“A paper trail tells you that nothing happened inside the machine to modify what you put in,” said Bradford Woods resident Janet Fesq. “My thing was to ensure that there’s a paper trail within the machine, in particular, and also a step that allows a voter to review what they’ve put into the machine.”


Pennsylvania was one of nearly two dozen states whose election infrastructure was targeted by Russian hackers in the 2016 presidential election. The Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states in 2017 of Russia’s efforts, including swing states like Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.


The changes are part of a directive from the Pennsylvania Department of State that requires every county to get new voting machines that create paper records by the end of 2019, ahead of the 2020 elections. The state received more than $13 million in federal money from a federal election security fund (which awarded $380 million to states in 2018).


“There is no internet connection, which is good,” said Pittsburgh resident Brian Johnson, referencing longstanding fears that voting machines could be hacked remotely.

County election officials have long maintained that because of such fears, the current generation of machines are never connected to the internet. But computer experts have shown many machines can be electronically tampered with in person.

“I guess I’m old school, I still want a paper ballot in my hand," said Johnson. "I do know for a fact that our voting machines in Allegheny County, across Pennsylvania and across the country are old. So it is time that we did something more modern.”

A bipartisan commission based at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security published a similar assessment of the state’s voting systems earlier this year.


“It’s a capital expense that’s overdue, even if we were not vulnerable,” commission co-chair David Hickton told WESA’s The Confluence in January. “[Current voting machines] have been demonstrated to be imminently hackable.”


Dr. Clifford Lau, a Judge of Elections in Moon, agreed that it was a good idea to use machines that are more secure. But he worried about introducing new equipment at the polls in a presidential election year that is already likely to be hectic.


“People don’t like new things,” Lau said. “This is supposedly going to be implemented by the 2020 election, which I think is going to be a big one. So, not only do we have a big election, but we’re going to introduce people to new machines which I’m not looking forward to.”   


A final decision on which machines to purchase will be made based on public input and research by the county's election board’s internal search committee. The series of events for public input will be held though June 13: A complete schedule is here.