York County looks for voting machine cash as Wolf, GOP squabble

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is at right. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

York County might be on track to receive about $862,000 in state funding to help pay for new government-mandated voting machines, but the path to that money is unclear as the governor and the Legislature spar over the power of the purse.

Gov. Tom Wolf indicated on Tuesday that he plans to order a $90 million bond issue through the state's Economic Development Financing Authority to secure the funding. Republicans, who dominate both state legislative chambers, have said Wolf's move would be an illegal use of executive power. 

The move came after Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed a Republican-backed measure that would have supplied the same $90 million but also would have eliminated straight-ticket voting.

"We approved $90 million in bonds to help counties solve this problem," said Mike Straub, spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster. "The governor didn’t like other parts of that bill, and now he’s trying to find a path to do what we already said he should have done."

Republicans indicated Tuesday they would consider options to challenge the governor's order, but Straub said lawmakers hope to work with the administration to find a legal way to secure the funds.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's counties are spending cash attempting to comply with Wolf's order that upgraded, more secure voting machines be in place by the 2020 general election.

The York County Board of Commissioners approved a $1.4 million contract last month for new voting machines and software from Dominion Voting Systems.

York County President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said York County "absolutely" needs the state funding to avoid increasing taxes.

"It’s my fervent hope that the governor and the legislators can work together to ensure that the counties can receive this $90 million," she said.

With $90 million, the state intends to reimburse each county for about 60% of the cost for new machines, said Wanda Murren, spokeswoman for the Department of State.

Details about when the funding would be available and when the state would need to repay the bond issue were not available as of Thursday, July 11, Murren said.

More:York County signs $1.4 million deal for new voting machines

More:York County unlikely to wait for state voting machine cash

The General Assembly isn't scheduled to return to session until September, but Straub said legislators are looking at options to secure funding by amending existing legislation that hasn't yet taken effect.

"As far as the funding for the machines, I would hope it would be a nonpartisan issue and they would come to some agreement on it," said York County Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke.

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, declined to comment on the disagreement between some legislators and the governor's office, but she said she applauds Wolf's action to secure voting machine funding for York County and the rest of the state.

"I think he’s listening," she said. "He’s hearing what our counties and our communities are saying."