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EDITORIAL: New voting machines costly, but necessary

York Dispatch
  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wants new voting machines in place by the 2020 election.
  • The new machines would have an auditable paper trail. Election experts say such a paper trail is necessary.
  • The cost for the new machines in York County could reach as high as $8 million.

Protecting the integrity of our elections is one of the fundamental roles of government.

After our national defense, it may be the next-most important task that our public officials face.

The very fabric of our republic depends on having free and fair elections that are above reproach and beyond corruption.

If the public loses faith in the electoral process, it will lose faith in our government as well.

That’s why the voting machines that determine the winners and losers in our elections must be protected against hacking, both foreign and domestic.

Unfortunately, that’s an expensive process. Still, it’s a process we simply can't afford to ignore.

New machines needed: That’s why Gov. Tom Wolf wants Pennsylvania counties to buy new voting machines. It’s a priority for the York County Democrat. He wants the new machines, which would have an auditable paper trail, in place in time for the 2020 presidential election.

Pennsylvania is one of just 15 states where machines with no paper trail are in use. That paper trail, according to election experts, is an absolute necessity to ensure the integrity of the vote.

Republicans not on board: You would think that the state’s Republicans would jump on board with Wolf. After all, everyone should be in favor of indisputable election results. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

Pennsylvania commits to new voting machines, election audits

Top state Republican lawmakers, however, have largely been silent on the issue. Others are outright opposed to Wolf’s plan.

The Senate Majority Whip, Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, said he wants to require legislative approval before Wolf — or any Pennsylvania governor, can force counties to buy new machines. Gordner also wants to set up a commission to gather public input and develop recommendations.

Lawmaker questions Gov. Wolf’s drive for new voting machines

Gordner does not believe it’s necessary to replace every single machine because they are not “tied to the Internet,” and he’s not sure that speeding the new machines into service by 2020 leaves enough time to work out the bugs. He also says he’s reflecting the concerns of county officials about the costs of the new machines.

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

Cost is high: Not all of Gordner’s concerns should be simply brushed aside. The timeline is aggressive and the costs are significant.

In York County, for example, the new voting machines are estimated to cost as much as $8 million. York County Commissioner Chris Reilly said that could lead to a tax increase.

York County has year to replace voting machines — and figure out how to pay up to $8 million

No one likes to see their taxes go up. Wolf and the state Legislature should do everything in their power to make sure that the county governments aren’t forced to foot the entire bill.

Cost should be shared: The federal government should contribute its fair share, especially since the Trump administration, through Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, has called on the states to adopt machines with “a verifiable and auditable ballot” by the 2020 election.

There is a precedent for federal aid. In 2006, the federal government reimbursed the county $1.85 million of the $2.1 million it spent on new machines after the disputed 2000 presidential election.

York County Elections and Voter Registration Director Nikki Suchanic talks to poll workers about the card activator device during a training session at the Red Lion Area Senior Center in Red in 2015. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The state government also needs to help out. Wolf knows that and plans to ask the Republican-controlled Legislature for state aid to cover at least half of the costs.

In addition, every possible financing option should be explored to reduce costs, and the state should attempt to certify machines from multiple vendors to increase choice, which should also decrease costs.

Small price to pay: The bottom line, however, is this: Pennsylvania must have new voting machines as soon as possible. That will come at a significant cost, no matter how the financial pie is sliced.

In the worst-case scenario, if York County would have to pay the entire $8 million tab for new machines, that cost per resident would be less than $20.

That seems like a small price to pay to ensure that our future elections are free, fair and indisputable.