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Voting Machines

Cumberland County Board of Elections board members and Cumberland County commissioners try a variety of different types of voting machines on June 4.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he is ordering a bond issue to help Pennsylvania’s counties pay for new voting machines ahead of 2020’s presidential election after a dispute between the Democrat and the Republican-controlled Legislature doomed legislation to help fund the machines.

The bond issue of up to $90 million is designed to reimburse each county for 60% of their cost, Wolf said in a statement. He gave no timeline to get the money to counties, which applauded the decision.

“Pennsylvania counties are well on their way to replacing their voting systems and I applaud their tremendous commitment to protecting our elections,” Wolf said. “I remain committed to supporting their efforts and this funding will help the counties to complete that process.”

Wolf began pressing counties last year to replace their voting machines before 2020 after federal authorities warned Pennsylvania and at least 20 other states that Russian hackers targeted them during 2016’s presidential election.

That prompted a wide range of election integrity advocates and computer scientists, as well as former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to urge states to switch to machines that produce an auditable paper trail.

The money raised by the bond will be used for voting machines that have enhanced anti-hacking security, produce a paper record that allows a voter to double-check how their vote is recorded, and allow election officials to audit election results, Wolf’s administration said.

The so-called direct-recording electronic machines in wide use currently in Pennsylvania leave no paper trail and make it almost impossible to know if they’ve accurately recorded individual votes or if anyone tampered with the count.

Wolf’s administration has warned lawmakers that failing to replace Pennsylvania’s roughly 25,000 voting machines by next year’s elections could leave it as the only state without voter-verifiable paper systems, and certainly the only presidential battleground state in that position.

Wolf included one crucial change Tuesday in his stated intention to decertify voting systems in use last year. He is giving counties that already use hand-marked paper ballot voting systems the opportunity to request an extension until June 2021 to select a new system.

Top Republican lawmakers resisted Wolf’s move to decertify voting machines, but in late June they abruptly backed 11th-hour legislation that carried up to $90 million in borrowing authority to pay for new voting machines.

However, Wolf vetoed that measure Friday because the legislation included changes to election laws that Wolf said wouldn’t improve voting security or access, hadn’t been negotiated and didn’t include his ideas on how to improve election laws.

As many as two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s counties could have new voting systems rolled out in this November’s election, and they are paying for it in the meantime with the property taxes that fund their operations, county officials say.

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