COUDERSPORT -- A bid for new election voting machines was accepted by the Potter County Commissioners during their meeting last Wednesday.
The lone bid came from Election Systems and Software (ES&S) in the amount of $354,926.20. That purchases 68 machines and maintenance and license agreement for the first year. After that, it is $15,000/year for maintenance and licensure renewals. The county pays $88,731 up front and pays the rest upon delivery. Delivery is planned for this month and the machines should be up and running for the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election.
Commissioner Doug Morley said they are able to pay for that with money currently in reserves.
“At this point, there are reserves that are available … this will not have to be taken out of a tax of the individual at this point, by an increase or otherwise,” Morley said.
Morley explained the voter equipment is mounted on a table on wheels so it can be wheeled from place to place. After the election, the only thing they’ll have to deal with is a flash drive with the votes on it and a box of paper ballots.
In April of 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of State told counties to have “voter-verifiable paper record voting systems” selected by December 31, 2019 and have them ready to use for the 2020 primary election.
Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement in February 2018 this would help strengthen the accuracy of the voting system.
But because this mandate came as underfunded, it left a bitter taste in the commissioners’ mouths.
“The new voting machines are basically the cover story of the next edition of unfunded mandates magazine, as far as I’m concerned,” Commissioner Paul Heimel said during their last meeting. “Our machines work, they work well, people are satisfied with them, there hasn’t been a hint of voter fraud.”
“The federal and state governments are underfunding this, county tax payers are stuck having to pay for them because of that and it’s an unfortunate situation,” Heimel said.
Commissioner Susan Kefover said if there is any relief from the state, they can use it to reimburse the county for what it paid.
Last week, Gov. Wolf (Democrat) vetoed Senate Bill 48, which would have partially funded the voting machines mandate. In a statement, he said he was committed to providing voting machine funding, but this particular bill weakened ”the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to flaws that would require the decertification of large numbers of machines fewer than 180 days before an election” and eliminated straight party ballot voting, something he said “could lead to voter confusion and longer lines at the polls,” which in turn could decrease voter turnout.
On Tuesday, the governor announced the state will issue a bond that will help counties purchase new voting machines.
“Under the arrangement, the commonwealth would fund up to $90 million to reimburse counties for 60 percent of their actual costs to replace voting systems. The Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority (PEDFA) may issue bonds, and the Department of State would make grants available to counties,” the press release said.