Wolf to Bond $90 Million to Help Counties Pay for New Voting Machines

In the latest twist in the great voting machine replacement saga of 2019, Governor Tom Wolf announced a plan to bond $90 million to help counties cover the cost of purchasing new voting machines. 

Wolf had previously ordered counties to upgrade their machines before the 2020 elections to ones that produce a paper trail, with a warning that the Department of State wouldn't certify the election results from any county that failed to do it. The Department of State then narrowed down the list of approved machines, and some counties have since been purchasing the equipment and trying it out in local lower-turnout elections in preparation for the Presidential in 2020. 

But many other counties have been dragging their feet and complaining about the cost and the unfunded mandate from the state, or just holding out for the state to pony up some cash, which has appeared at least somewhat inevitable.  

Sasha Hupka and Jonathan Lai recount the evolution of this funding from a budget item, to a standalone bill with a poison pill in it, to the current bonding plan. 

"The move comes days after Wolf vetoed a controversial Republican bill that would have provided the $90 million but also ended straight-party voting at the polls, a change that leaders of Wolf’s Democratic Party have opposed. That legislation also would have limited the governor’s ability to order counties to update their voting machines.

“I was trying to get the legislature to work with me in partnership to do this, and I think we could do that one way or another,” Wolf said.

Wolf had previously proposed $15 million for voting machine upgrades in the state budget — which several county officials criticized as too little — and no guarantee of future money. That money was ultimately taken out of the budget, and Republican lawmakers attached funding to the bill Wolf vetoed.

The new state funding, which Wolf said will likely come through bonds issued by the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority (PEDFA), will be distributed as grants from the Pennsylvania Department of State."

Republican leaders are pushing back on Wolf's legal authority to issue the $90 million bond without their approval, but also are notably stopping short of saying they'll take Wolf to court over it, so this may be the best of all worlds for everyone. Counties get some state funding, Wolf gets his way on the election security upgrade, and Republican leaders get to idly complain about Wolf while also just letting the plan happen and not having to vote for a tax increase. 

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