Elections (Archived)

Counties have until end of 2019 to procure new voting machines

Optical voting machines, like this one in Florida, can provide both digital and printed ballots - Shutterstock

Optical voting machines, like this one in Florida, can provide both digital and printed ballots - Shutterstock

Pennsylvania counties will have until December 31, 2019, to find new voting machines that keep a paper trail, per a Department of State announcement Thursday.

The mandate comes with $13.5 million in federal funding from Congress’ recently passed budget. However, the state legislature would need to approve the disbursement of any commonwealth dollars to the endeavor.

“We have been planning for some time to bring Pennsylvania’s voting machines up to 21st-century standards of security, auditability and resiliency,” Department of State Secretary Robert Torres said in a statement. “The federal assistance could not come at a more opportune moment.”

The new voting machines must keep some paper record of every voter’s choices, in case the results must be audited due to a hack that changes any ballots.

Gov. Tom Wolf previously announced the changes in February. They come in light of Russia’s widespread electronic malfeasance directed against America’s voting infrastructure during the 2016 election. 

So far, however, election officials nationwide do not believe that vote totals were changed.

After a press event Thursday, Wolf said he had not yet reached out to the legislature to make an appropriation, noting the state still could have a role “making sure we’re paying the least amount of cost for these machines.” 

The 2019 deadline is only for procurement – not for implementation, according to DOS spokesperson Wanda Murren, to avoid decommissioning voting machines and leaving a municipality without any way to count ballots.

Ideally, the department said, the new machines will be procured and in place by the November 2019 general election.

In a statement, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania’s executive director. Douglas Hill, expressed caution and appreciation for the deadline, focusing on the expected price tag of $125 million to replace every voting machine in the commonwealth.

“With more than a decade of stagnant appropriations across the spectrum of programs counties provide on the commonwealth’s behalf, few counties have resources on hand to meet the expected cost,” Hill said in the statement.

The $13.5 million in federal funds covers a little less than 11 percent of CCAP’s estimated total.

However, the move drew praise from good-government groups such as Common Cause’s Pennsylvania branch, and Keystone Votes, a nonpartisan coalition that hopes to improve Pennsylvania’s voting system.

“The security and integrity of our election system is a nonpartisan issue,” Ray Murphy, state coordinator for Keystone Votes, said. “Nothing is more important in that effort than making sure our counties have the resources they need to upgrade hardware and software.”


Stephen Caruso is a staff writer for The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania's government. Email him at stephen@mypls.com