(New voting machines | Image: WHYY)
Governor Tom Wolf has been mounting a push to get counties to buy new voting machines before the 2020 elections that will have an auditable paper trail—something the voting machines in a majority of Pennsylvania counties don't have. For a variety of reasons this has led to consternation from county election officials, including our City Commissioners, and now the Senate Republican Majority Whip says he's drafting legislation to take away Wolf's power to force counties to buy the machines.
Majority Whip John Gordner says he's hearing from county election officials in his district about the cost of the machines, and has concerns about addressing any bugs before a big Presidential election year. He's drafting legislation for next year to require legislative approval of this effort. The Department of State has told counties they'll decertify voting machines for the 2020 election that aren't up to standard.
While it's always possible that any new machines could have some unknown problems of their own, Wolf's initiative is a critical election security move since 4 in 5 Pennsylvania counties use voting machines that don't have an auditable paper trail.
"Most of the counties use voting systems that store votes electronically without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that can be used to double-check the vote. The majority of voting machines in 17 counties, including two in [Majority Whip John] Gordner's district, scan paper ballots, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees state elections.
However, the department said those systems also must be replaced because they lack the availability of technical support and don't meet current prevailing standards for accessibility and security...In April, Wolf gave counties a deadline of 2020 to switch to voting machines that leave a paper trail after federal authorities said Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states, including Pennsylvania, during the 2016 presidential election.
The election technology in Pennsylvania and other states using all-electronic machines is so unreliable and vulnerable to hacking that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in August joined calls for states to adopt machines with "a verifiable and auditable ballot" by the 2020 presidential election."
Pennsylvania has been a target for hackers before, and in all likelihood it'll be a target again in 2020, so replacing the machines is imperative.
Counties are already on a tight timeline to make this happen once the Department of State has certified all the new models of voting machines, so the practical upshot of any delay in the process resulting from state legislators inserting themselves is going to be to push past the deadline and keep the current vulnerable machines in place for 2020.
It's a reckless move. If the cost to local governments is a big concern, state lawmakers are in a great position to address that by shouldering more of the cost at the state level.
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