Pennsylvania commits to new voting machines, election audits

Marc Levy
Associated Press

HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is settling a vote-counting lawsuit stemming from the 2016 presidential election, in part by affirming a commitment it made previously to push Pennsylvania’s counties to buy voting systems that leave a verifiable paper trail by 2020.

Paperwork filed Thursday in federal court in Philadelphia caps a lawsuit that Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed in 2016 as she sought recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

All three states had a history of backing Democrats for president before they were narrowly and unexpectedly won by Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Months ago, Wolf, a Democrat, began pushing counties to upgrade to voting machines that leave a paper trail as a safeguard against hacking by 2020. Four in five Pennsylvania voters use machines that lack an auditable paper trial.

In the settlement, Wolf underscores that commitment “so that every Pennsylvania voter in 2020 uses a voter-verifiable paper ballot.” The settlement also requires the state to institute audits of election results by 2022 before the results are certified, based on recommendations from a working group the state must assemble by Jan. 1.

Ilann Maazel, a lawyer for Stein and a handful of registered Pennsylvania voters who sued, said Thursday that the agreement is “a major step forward for Pennsylvania voters and election integrity.”

The lawsuit had accused Pennsylvania of violating the constitutional rights of voters because its voting machines were susceptible to hacking and barriers to a recount were pervasive.

In September, U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond had denied the Wolf administration’s effort to dismiss the lawsuit’s claims that the continued use of paperless voting machines may violate the constitutional rights of voters. Diamond, however, will retain jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the settlement.

The state had faced the risk that the court could have ordered a much shorter time frame for counties to switch to the new voting machines, and could have ordered the post-election audits to be implemented immediately, Kathy Boockvar, an election adviser to Wolf, said Thursday evening in an email to county officials.

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Pennsylvania is one of 13 states where most or all voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the vote, according to researchers at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

The cost of buying new voting systems will be $125 million, county officials estimate, and say the greatest single impediment to buying new voting machines is the lack of a funding source.

York County Voting Technology Coordinator Casey Brady removes a circuit board from a non-working voting machine at a storage warehouse in an undisclosed area Thursday, June 7, 2018. He's been in the job for three months. "It's been a lot to pick up pretty quick," he said. He said the county has 624 working machines and 45 which are in need or repair, or used for parts. In April, Gov. Tom Wolf directed all counties to replace machines, like those used in York County, with new voting machines—all offering paper trails—by 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Until Thursday, Wolf hadn’t said how much his administration would be willing to pay for the machines. But in the email to county officials, Boockvar said for the first time that Wolf is committed to asking lawmakers for state funding to foot at least half of the cost, on top of about $14 million in federal money already available.