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Voting machines will stay

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, Oct. 31, 2002

GREENSBURG - Westmoreland County officials said Wednesday the more than 700 lever voting machines aren't broken, so they don't need to be replaced with a high-tech alternative.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with these lever machines. It's one of the most secure systems we have. There are no over-votes, and there is no way anybody can go in and tamper with that machine," said Paula Pedicone, director of the Bureau of Elections.

County officials insist that the lever-based voting machines in use today are as good as, if not better than, any electronic or computer-based system that the federal government is pushing.

President Bush signed into law this week the Help America Vote Act that authorizes $3.9 billion in federal spending to states to upgrade voting machines throughout the country, train poll workers and educate voters. The money, which has yet to be allocated by Congress, is to be used in part to replace paper ballots and lever voting machines.

While it was still unclear Wednesday just what the new federal legislation means in terms of requirements, local officials said what they know for sure is that it won't provide enough money for Westmoreland County to replace its machines.

The bill reportedly will provide up to $4,000 per precinct for the machine replacements. There are 306 voting precincts in Westmoreland County, meaning the most money the county could receive is about $1.22 million.

Pedicone estimated it would cost at least twice that and probably more to replace the county's 732 voting machines. She said the county would need about $3.6 million to replace every machine.

While the lever machines are more than 40 years old and now out of production, Westmoreland County's are in good working order. Pedicone said the county has a supply of machines that are used solely for repair parts and that additional old machines can be purchased from other jurisdictions for that purpose.

The machines record votes when levers are pulled. Votes are tabulated by a mechanical counter on the back of each machine that is advanced every time a lever is pulled.

Judges of elections open the locked machine when the polls are closed and read the counter numbers for the official tally.

Pedicone said the old technology is still the best way to ensure votes are properly registered and recorded.

"I don't understand why the lever machines get thrown into the same mix," Pedicone said of criticism about other voting methods, such as paper ballots.

Because of the cost involved in changing Westmoreland County's voting system to electronic and computerized machines, there is not much support for such a plan among elected officials.

Commissioners Tom Ceraso and P. Scott Conner said Wednesday the estimated expense doesn't warrant a change.

"For right now, the lever machines have been pretty reliable. If there is a cost involved (in purchasing new machines), I don't think it is something we're looking to do," Ceraso said.

Conner agreed. "I can't imagine us at this juncture needing to update what seems like a well-functioning system."

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