Pennsylvania is in the process of upgrading its voting machines. The new machines are designed to meet new U.S. Department of Homeland Security standards of “verifiable and auditable” ballots through a hybrid system of paper records and digital recording in time for the 2020 presidential election.
At an expo in the Bucks County Administration Building in Doylestown Dec. 13, five systems were demonstrated. Kathy Boockvar, senior advisor to the governor on election modernization, said that the generation of machines being replaced predated the first iPhone. The expo was one of five scheduled across the state.
Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres directed counties throughout the state to select new machines consistent with updated securityty standards no later than Dec. 31, 2019.
The common denominator in certified systems will be the use of paper ballots, which are seen as both a deterrent against hacking and cyber-attacks as well as a more auditable practice. Most states already use paper-based balloting and only 13 still use direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines like Pennsylvania, in which only 17 of 67 counties use paper.
Without switching away from DREs, Pennsylvania would be the only swing state in the country without a paper trail in the next presidential election.
Susquehanna County has already made a choice, having taken delivery of the Unisyn system. Unisyn follows the general format of all the systems, utilizing a ballot marking device to produce a paper ballot and a precinct scanner to record the ballot.
Unisyn’s precinct scanner is called the OpenElect Voting Optical scan, providing a comprehensive solution that securely validates and tabulates ballots. The ballots themselves are marked with a special tablet called the OpenElect FreedomVote Tablet (FVT). Unlike hand-marked ballots, however, the tablet device produces a barcoded strip, precluding last-minute verification of choices by the voter before scanning.
Election Systems and Solutions (ES&S) similarly produces barcoded ballots, as does the Dominion Democracy Suite’s ImageCast system.
The Clear Ballot ClearVote System and Hart Intercivic Verity System both utilize electronic marking devices which produce easy-to-read ballots, making it possible for voters to review their choices prior to registering their ballot in the precinct scanner.
The Coalition of Voting Integrity, a grassroots organization of concerned citizens, has detailed its concerns with the new machines, questioning touchscreen security vulnerabilities, accessibility by those unfamiliar with the technology, and the ability of a voter to verify barcoded ballots prior to scanning.
The organization contends that cybersecurity professionals advocate hand-marked ballots in privacy booths, including an ADA-compliant ballot marking device for the disabled, noting that all the vendors can configure their systems accordingly.
Boockvar stated the decision on which system to purchase is decentralized in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. While all system choices must be certified by the state, the decision of which certified system to use is left to the counties. Local voting officials were in attendance at the expo, questioning vendors about the systems.
A total of six systems will be certified by spring, according to a December 11 press release from the Pennsylvania Department of State. Governor Tom Wolf’s administration is seeking funding to defray half the cost to the counties.
Pennsylvania received almost $13.5 million in federal funding for election security which adds to a 5% state match for a total of $14.15 million in allocated funds to the counties.