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County voting machines under review by state

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By Lara Brenckle
Thursday, June 8, 2006

State election officials said Wednesday they will conduct their own review of claims that Allegheny County used uncertified voting equipment and software in the May 16 primary.

Voting rights advocates from the Allegheny County chapter of VotePA told County Council on Tuesday that elections officials used voting machines that didn't have the state's approval. Some data-collection equipment and machines had outdated versions of software. And a version of the machine that did not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act was never reviewed by the state, the group said.

The Pennsylvania Department of State's review of Allegheny County's vote is similar to checks being conducted in all 67 counties, agency spokeswoman Leslie Amoros said. It will not affect voting results or federal funding to pay for the machines, she said.

"Elections Code doesn't work in terms of penalties," Amoros said. "It provides a method for remediation. It's not penalty driven. We have to make sure that their systems are in compliance with the standards."

As required by federal law, Allegheny County switched from lever-style to electronic voting machines in the May primary.

Elections Systems & Software's iVotronic touch-screen machines were picked just weeks before the primary after county Chief Executive Dan Onorato backed off two earlier companies. Pressed for time, Nebraska-based ES&S was able to deliver half of the county's order in time for the primary, along with optical scan machines that were used as backups.

Company spokesman Ken Fields insisted that both versions of the touch-screen voting machines ES&S provided had been approved by the state. "All the equipment that was used -- both types of machines -- were used as part of the certification process in Pennsylvania," he said.

ES&S was still checking the software yesterday, Fields said. The company is working with the county to resolve any problems with the equipment and will provide information on its findings at Monday's Board of Elections meeting, he said.

The county Elections Department's report to the board will include final voting results for certification, its findings on the equipment dispute and suggestions for improvements in November's general election, Onorato spokesman Kevin Evanto said.

Evanto cautioned that the county's review does not mean it is lending credence to the allegations made by VotePA.

"These are people who wanted optical scan machines," Evanto said. "We didn't do that and they are determined to discredit the touch-screen machines. But we believe the vote is sacred as well, and that's one of the reasons we're taking a look at these things. There would be a review either way."

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