Editorial: Cheaper solutions work better sometimes
Sometimes you’ve got to decide between what’s better for the job and what you can afford.
Maybe you could really use a brand-new custom-built house with four bathrooms and a kitchen that is all granite and stainless steel. But what you can afford is a fixer-upper where your kids will have to argue over a shower.
But what if the fixer-upper isn’t what you want, but it’s exactly what you need? What if the fancy house you crave is really a money pit?
Some Pennsylvania counties are finding themselves in that situation. And it looks like they aren’t thinking with their wallets.
Election security is important, and the state wants to see new voting machines to ensure that the votes cast are actually the votes counted.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $90 million bond issue in July so counties can get machines with paper trails before the 2020 presidential election.
Allegheny and Westmoreland counties aren’t among the 31 that have picked their new systems. Of those, 24 have elected for a paper-ballot-based process that costs about half as much as an electronic option.
According to Christopher Deluzio, policy director for the Institute for Cyber Law Policy and Security at the University of Pittsburgh, an analysis he did with Kevin Skoglund of Citizens for Better Elections showed this is one of those times where cheaper is better.
And it’s better in more ways than one.
There is the fact that paper is harder to hack. The paper system also allows a reliable recount.
It could also help head off large lines at the ballot box. If you only have two or three electronic machines, lines can crop up while people wait for other voters to finish making their choices. With paper machines, additional stations can be set up if a backlog of voters arises.
But it will probably surprise no one that in a bureaucracy, what is cheaper, more secure and more efficient doesn’t necessarily mean it is what gets selected. Seven counties, including Philadelphia, are spending more money on more expensive equipment.
Pennsylvania isn’t alone in this. Other states are finding similar situations. Georgia has been ordered by a federal judge to replace its outdated system after the fall elections, and a study has shown a hand-marked paper ballot purchase could save the state $90 million.
The fixer-upper might not be fancy, but sometimes it gets the job done.