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Westmoreland

Westmoreland County voting machines must be replaced by 2019 at cost up to $7M

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, April 30, 2018, 4:27 p.m.
A Westmoreland County employee  punches in the votes that she filled out on paper into a polling machine during a public test of  voting equipment prior to the 2016 general election.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
A Westmoreland County employee punches in the votes that she filled out on paper into a polling machine during a public test of voting equipment prior to the 2016 general election.

Westmoreland County will have to replace its voting machines by the end of next year, an expense that could cost taxpayers up to $7 million, officials said Monday.

State elections officials issued a directive in mid-April that requires all Pennsylvania counties to use machines that provide a verifiable paper trail of votes by the 2020 elections, which will require some to purchase new voting systems.

Westmoreland's current system, which uses computerized touchscreens, doesn't comply with the directive.

“There is a potential the state will decertify our current machines in 2019,” Lechman said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf said counties must be able to verify the accuracy of votes through paperwork generated at the polls as a way to ensure election outcomes are accurate and tamper-proof.

Westmoreland's system records votes electronically and stores totals digitally. The system does not allow for the verification of vote totals with a printout or through any other means.

The county used a $3 million federal grant in 2005 to purchase those machines, which replaced the old-fashioned lever voting booths used for more than a half century; 850 of them are used for elections.

Lechman said Westmoreland could receive up to $400,000 through a federal grant program to purchase voting machines that meet the state directive, but those funds won't come close to the estimated cost of $5 million to $7 million for the replacement.

County commissioners said they will comply with the state mandate.

“Our machines are functioning, but we have started to explore how to implement that process,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.

Commissioner Gina Cerilli said the county may consider renting a voting system to save money.

“This is just another example of the state mandating us to do something without giving us the funds to do it,” Cerilli said.

Four companies, including one that supplied the county's current voting system, will be at the courthouse this summer to demonstrate models that will meet the state's verification directive.

The public demonstrations are scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. June 20, June 28, July 9 and July 23.

Products to be displayed are expected to include some that are similar to the county's current system.

Another is computerized voting modeled after the old lever system, while some others simply use paper ballots that are filled out and scanned, Lechman said.

“I hope we'll have a decision by the end of the year,” Lechman said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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