Editorial: The high cost of voting security
Cost shouldn’t always be the most important factor in a government decision.
There are plenty of times that you want your leaders to make the right call, not the cheap one. Build a bridge that won’t buckle. Buy a fire truck that works. Short-term savings aren’t always a long-run solution.
But expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better either — especially when experts are warning that it’s worse.
Westmoreland County commissioners spent $7.1 million on new voting machines under Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate that all counties upgrade, in time for the 2020 presidential primary, to systems that will create paper trails.
That’s why the new touch screen/scanner system was approved.
“The people from Westmoreland County expect to have the very best, and this is the best solution to the problem,” said outgoing commissioner Chuck Anderson.
But do people want a top-of-the-line sports car? Or would a brand-new but less expensive minivan make more sense?
Allegheny County paid $10.5 million for its new system, going with a paper ballot/scanner operation.
Yes, Allegheny spent more, but break it down and it’s a lot less. With more than four times as many registered voters, Allegheny spent about a third of what Westmoreland did.
Cost per registered voter for the Allegheny system is $11. In Westmoreland, it’s $30. Go by who actually votes and it gets higher. Divide by the highest turnout in recent elections — November 2016 — and the cost tops $38 per person.
And maybe that would be OK if it were the best recommendation in uncertain times when elections have been targeted by hostile outsiders for interference. But it’s not.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security says the paper ballot system is better. So does Christopher Deluzio of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law and Security, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
So why pay more for what so many see as an inferior system? Anderson said, “If you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it right. These things are going to last us for 10 years.”
That’s exactly why this is a job for a lower-cost, higher-performance solution like the one Allegheny bought and Westmoreland didn’t.