Cumberland County will conduct a disability access audit of its polling places, in line with an agreement reached with the federal Department of Justice last year, in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
The county commissioners were told Thursday that the county received two bids from consultants to conduct the work, the lowest being $38,391. The county has 118 polling locations.
The survey will assess polling places for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act in accordance with DOJ guidelines.
The county pledged to conduct an audit last year as part of an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, after federal surveys of local polling places found that Cumberland County had several polling locations that were not fully accessible to the disabled.
A myriad of simple fixes, such as using alternate entrances or improving signage, have already been made, according to Bethany Salzarulo, director of the county’s Bureau of Elections.
The audit will let the county know if any more significant changes, such as the installation of wheelchair ramps, or other structural modifications, will be required, Salzarulo said.
The ADA audit is likely the easier of two election-related efforts that the county will undertake, the other being the replacement of its voting machines with systems that provide paper-backup ballots.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced last year that the state would require all counties to adopt machines with paper trails by April 2020, in time for the presidential primary.
The Pennsylvania Department of State has certified four voting machines that meet the requirements.
“We’re still in the process of looking at our options,” Salzarulo said.
Once the county’s elections board selects a device, the county will also have to figure out how to pay for it. Estimates put the statewide cost at around $125 million, of which Wolf has proposed the state will pay for half, and the counties will fund the rest.
Beyond the cost, the county has questioned whether the move would improve election security, given that the county’s voting machines, while recording ballots electronically, do not hook up to the internet and thus cannot be remotely hacked.
Several state lawmakers apparently share those concerns, and have filed a bill that would delay the de-certification of voting machines by the state until a legislative commission can review the reasons for the change and agree on a long-term funding method.
Senate Bill 48 would require the Pennsylvania Department of State to submit a replacement plan to the state Senate and House of Representatives if it intends to phase out the voting machines in more than half of the state’s counties.
The plan must be submitted at least 180 days before the effective date of replacement. A committee formed by the legislative bodies must then issue a recommendation within 90 days.
The Senate State Government Committee is scheduled for a hearing regarding SB 48 on March 26, according to the state legislative calendar.