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Westmoreland

Westmoreland lawmakers: Attempt to halt voting machine mandate unlikely to succeed

Jacob Tierney
| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, 6:03 p.m.
Voting machine coordinator Barb Harkins works through a calibration screen on voting machines in an Allegheny County warehouse in Manchester Monday, August 22, 2016.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Voting machine coordinator Barb Harkins works through a calibration screen on voting machines in an Allegheny County warehouse in Manchester Monday, August 22, 2016.

A state senator wants to stop or postpone Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate that counties must buy costly new voting machines, but Westmoreland County leaders say they don’t think the proposed legislation has much chance of success.

“That would be great; unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to be a reality,” Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli said.

The county has been preparing to buy new voting machines in response to the governor’s decision that the current electronic machines be replaced by the 2020 election.

The existing machines are considered vulnerable to hacking, since four in five Pennsylvania voters use electronic voting machines that lack an auditable paper trail.

Senate Republican Whip John Gordner of Columbia County wants to require legislative approval to replace machines and set up a commission of appointees to hold public hearings.

Gordner says machines in some counties aren’t vulnerable to being hacked, and speeding new machines into service in 2020 leaves no time to work out bugs before a presidential election.

He also says financing the machines is causing angst in county government offices.

Switching machines would cost Westmoreland County about $7 million. The estimate to replace all voting machines in the state is $125 million.

“It’s money we don’t have, frankly, nor would I imagine other counties do,” Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

The county will need to borrow money to pay for the switch, Cerilli said.

However, Wolf has suggested the state cover half the cost, and his administration is asking vendors whether they will accept multiyear financing.

Cerilli thinks financial assistance from the state might be more likely than Gordner’s proposal.

“I think there is a chance the state could pay for half of our machines,” she said.

Kopas said the county is in the process of picking new voting machines, but still has time to change course if the state changes the mandate.

Officials are reviewing several options for new voting machines.

“We’re getting down to a selection of what we think we’d like, however we are not obligated contractually or financially to a new voting system,” he said.

Gordner said he hopes his bill will get a committee hearing in January, after the Legislature formally begins its two-year session.

Top Republican lawmakers have been largely silent about Wolf’s order to buy new voting machines and noncommittal about whether the state should contribute cash.

Wire services contributed to this report. Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact at him at jtierney@tribweb.com or 724-836-6646.

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