In a 2-1 vote, the Bucks County Board of Elections selected Clear Ballot as the vendor to provide new voting machines to the county, which last had a new voting system in 2006.
The Board of Elections consists of the county’s three commissioners, Robert G. Loughery, chairman of the board of commissioners, Diane Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the elections board, and Charles H. Martin.
Lougherty and Marseglia supported Clear Ballot, while Martin voted no. Martin had said for some time that he did not believe a new system was needed. If one were to replace the county’s existing machines, he favored the ES&S XL over Clear Ballot, according to a statement from the county.
Clear Ballot, one of five vendors approved by Pennsylvania’s Department of State, uses handmarked paper ballots to tally votes. Many voting systems experts consider the handmarked paper ballot system, which has a device available for disabled voters, to be the superior system, according to SAVE Bucks Votes, a voting advocacy group that has long petitioned for a verifiable and auditable system.
County officials said, Clear Ballot is a voter-verified paper ballot system that uses ballots lacking bar codes or QR codes. Voters complete paper ballots by hand and feed them into a scanner, which drops the ballot into a ballot bag for transportation to the Board of Elections office in Doylestown at the end of Election Day.
The Clear Ballot scanners also scan an image of the completed ballots and tabulate results from each precinct for efficient Election Night reporting.
After nearly a year of research, public meetings, voting machine demonstrations and sometimes passionate debate, the selection came on Thanksgiving Eve.
Although the commissioners were briefed in detail on the county staff’s research and findings, no formal recommendation was made to them of one system over the others, said the county in a press release. All three commissioners thanked Chief Clerk Deanna Giorno and a review team of county staffers for their research and reporting on the five options.
“There’s been a lot of work done on this, and we’ve all taken a tremendous amount of time over the past year looking at this,” Loughery said.
Another vote by the commissioners will be needed before the new machines and system can be bought and prepared for the next election. That’s expected Dec. 4.
Ardith Talbott of Bucks County’s League of Women Voters said the League believed that “many electronic machines are vulnerable to technology that comes between the voter and the final count. We, like many cybersecurity experts across the nation, believe that the use of voter-handmarked paper ballots will provide the greatest security for our elections.”
Martin argued that ES&S had been chosen by 33 of the 54 counties that had selected new systems so far, and that the system had worked well in Philadelphia during the general election earlier this month. He said that many voters at the county’s demonstrations had expressed a preference for ES&S, and that the machines most closely resembled the machines currently used by the county, a county statement said.
The voting machine change comes after serious concerns around the country surfaced about not having an auditable paper trail of ballots cast. Last year, the state said all Pennsylvania counties must have a system that provides a verifiable paper record of all votes cast by the end of this year. The new systems must be in place by the 2020 primary election .In 2018, Congress approved $38 million in grants to states to help with buying new machines and implementing new systems. How much Pennsylvania will get is still unclear.
Bucks County last replaced its voting machines in 2006, assisted by funding from the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.