Four voting machine options under consideration in Cumberland County
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Cumberland County

Four voting machine options under consideration in Cumberland County

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Beginning with the 2020 presidential primary, Cumberland County residents will vote using new machines with a paper trail.

The first vote, though, will come from the Cumberland County Board of Elections, which must decide which new machines to buy.

Representatives from Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software demonstrated four options Tuesday morning at the county Bureau of Elections on Ritner Highway in Carlisle. They ranged from an old-school paper ballot with a new-school twist to systems only slightly different from those the county uses now.

The Pennsylvania Department of State is requiring every county to purchase machines with a paper trail by 2020, responding to concerns that fully electronic voting machines could be vulnerable to hacking.

Voting machine details

No matter which option the Board of Elections selects, votes will still be cast and recorded electronically. However, there will be a paper backup for use in recounts, and voters can view the paper ballots before casting their vote.

None of the options would permit a voter to take a receipt home with them after casting a ballot.

The four options are:

  • A traditional paper ballot with ovals to select the preferred candidate. The voter would then take the ballot to a machine that scans it and deposits the paper ballot into a locked bin.
  • A touch-screen machine similar to the county’s existing machines. After a voter completes his or her initial selections, the machine will print out a paper ballot containing those choices. The voter must then take the ballot to the same scanning machine as in the previous option to complete the voting process.
  • The same touch-screen machine as in the previous option, but this time the machine directly deposits the paper ballot into a bin. The voter has the choice to print and review the paper ballot before the machine deposits it and the vote is cast.
  • A larger touch-screen machine that fits the entire ballot onto one screen. When the voter is finished, the printed ballot will appear in a viewer box at the side. The voter can review it before pressing a button on the touch-screen to cast the vote.

Members of the board of elections, other public officials, staff and members of the public discussed several factors – including privacy, voter confusion and ease of use for poll workers – but did not reach a conclusion. Director of Elections Bethany Salzarulo said she is concerned that with the first three options, voters will take their ballot home with them, thinking it is a receipt.

No matter which option the county chooses, it will be expensive. County officials have not yet calculated the precise cost of each option, but said the likely total will be $3-4 million.

Gov. Tom Wolf has asked the General Assembly to provide some funding support, but the amount remains subject to budget negotiations. The federal government has also given $14.1 million to Pennsylvania to modernize its voting systems, but Cumberland County received less than $300,000 of that funding.

Making a decision

The board of elections – consisting of county controller Al Whitcomb, prothonotary Dale Sabadish and county commissioner Jim Hertzler – will decide which machines to use, although the actual purchase must be approved by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. Hertzler said he’d like the board of elections to make a decision “in the near future” to ensure there is enough time to prepare for the April 28, 2020 primary election.

County staff and officials previously examined machines from other vendors, Salzarulo said. The Board of Elections decided to continue to use machines from Election Systems & Software, which supplies the county’s current voting machines.

Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.

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