Lancaster County is a step closer to meeting a state mandate that all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties replace their voting systems by the end of next year.
The county’s Board of Elections on Wednesday approved the criteria for new voting machines it must purchase.
The Pennsylvania Department of State earlier this year ordered all counties to replace their voting systems with one that leaves “voter-verifiable paper records” by Dec. 31, 2019.
Lancaster County’s voting system from 2006 uses machines with paper trails; however, the state department will not certify it.
“We felt like our paper ballot system would qualify but as of right now it does not,” Commissioner Dennis Stuckey said in April. “What we’ll have to do is press the case and see if we can convince them that we will qualify. So far they’ve told us (our system) will not be certified.”
In discussions with his staff, local party leaders and voters, Lancaster County Chief Registrar Randall Wenger previously said the consensus was that a new voting system should meet five requirements.
Following are the requirements and some answers to questions related to the state’s mandate.
What should the new Lancaster County voting system include?
• Voter marked paper ballots.
• Ballot tabulation at polling place — rather than staff collecting ballots and tabulating later — so any issues will be noticed while the voter is still present.
• Similar or identical ballots for Americans with Disabilities Act voters so that their votes are confidential.
• One machine for zero-tape and tally-tape printing. Zero tape is the tape that is printed when a voting machine is first set up. Tally tape is the tape with results that is printed once the polls close.
• The ability to correctly list cross-nominated candidates.
What is the timeline to purchase new voting machines?
Wenger would like to have the equipment purchased by next May, staff trained over that summer and a public demonstration in September 2019.
What is the cost?
Wenger estimated the cost for a new voting system could be $3.5 million, but he said that figure depends on what systems are available and if they are leased or purchased.
How will the county pay for it?
The federal government has made $13.5 million available to Pennsylvania, with about $500,000 of that set aside for Lancaster County. In April, Stuckey said if the legislature doesn’t provide more help, he thinks the cost could be considered a general fund capital expenditure in the county’s budget.
What will happen to the old machines?
The Board of Elections has not yet discussed how to handle the current voting machines once they become obsolete.
How many options are there?
So far the Department of State has certified only one machine, but Stuckey said about five should be approved by early next year.