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Claudia Reese, left, signs in to vote with the help of Lareene Fischer and Patricia Fischer in the 9th ward at the Columbia Borough Fire Department on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. All three ladies are volunteers at the voting table with Claudia taking her turn to vote during a slow time.

THE ISSUE

On Nov. 5, Lancaster County voters went to the polls to elect candidates for dozens of municipal and judicial offices. The Lancaster County Board of Elections reported 27.17% turnout — 88,369 out of 325,296 of those who are registered voted. And their voting experiences were mostly smooth. The county board “feels confident in the performance of its new voting system despite a few stumbles on Election Day,” Carter Walker reported in the Nov. 10 Sunday LNP.

Low turnout always disappoints us, but we’ll save that stern lecture for another day.

Instead, we want to applaud the county board of elections and all of the workers and volunteers who made Election Day run so well. It’s a testament to their tremendous efforts and integrity that most of those who voted had no problems. Their labor helps to keep our democracy humming.

Elections Board Chief Clerk Randall Wenger told LNP that most of difficulties voters encountered on Nov. 5 were due to user error. “Perforated stubs were not removed from the bottom of the ballot, which caused the scanner to reject the ballot until the section was torn off,” Walker reported.

“Having voters remove them before feeding it into the scanner is an imperative,” Wenger told Carter. “We’re working on ways for next year to make the stub more pronounced so that they are removed before the ballot is cast.”

We can consider that a lesson learned ahead of 2020.

The Election Day experience was especially smooth, considering that workers and voters were adjusting to new machines.

Despite a few snags, new voting system was ‘successful’ for Lancaster County

Pennsylvania mandated in spring 2018 that all counties update their voting systems by the 2020 primary; the edict came in the wake of warnings from federal authorities that Russian hackers had targeted Pennsylvania in recent elections. The key requirement from the state was for systems to have a “voter-verifiable paper record” for all votes.

And so in June, the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners approved, by a 2 to 1 vote, a nearly $3 million contract for the VerityVote system from Texas-based Hart InterCivic.

That new system was put into place for this month’s election. But, as Walker reported, the transition involved little or no change to the process for most Lancaster County voters, as “Hart Intercivic supplied Lancaster’s previous system and the majority of voters are already using paper ballots.”

Still, county officials wanted to roll out the new system in time for this month’s election, so that any hiccups could be worked out prior to the April 2020 presidential primary and the November 2020 presidential election — both of which should see extremely high turnouts.

That was an understandable strategy. And, indeed, there were some minor hiccups.

“In eight of the county’s 242 voting precincts, a second ballot scanner was required due to a problem with the primary unit,” Walker reported. Scanners were replaced at Lancaster city 7th Ward, 3rd Precinct; Akron Borough East District; Lititz Borough 1st Ward; Columbia Borough 6th District; Conoy Township; West Lampeter Township Lakes District; Manheim Township 1st District; and Manheim Township 11th District.

No voting site wants to have problems on Election Day, but going through the process of successfully dealing with them during a live election should prove invaluable as preparations are made for 2020.

“I think there are things we can improve for next year (but), all in all, it was successful,” Wenger told Carter.

Lancaster County was more fortunate than some other areas of the state.

“A Department of State spokeswoman said York County did not have enough scanners in some polling places and there was a ballot printing issue in a handful of precincts,” the Associated Press reported Nov. 6. “York County and the state Republican Party reached an agreement ... to have some of the ballots in question counted with a high-speed scanner at the county’s central elections office, and to count other ballots by hand.”

In all, slightly more than half of the state’s counties used new voting machines for the first time Nov. 5, according to the AP. Even as we adjust to the new systems, their paper ballots provide a strong sense of election security in less-than-secure times for the defense of our democracy.

“Voters should know that there is no problem with the paper ballots that they cast,” Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said in a statement. “(Instances of problems across Pennsylvania) underscore the importance and value of our 2018 decision to move to all paper-record voting systems, which are capable of post-election audits and recounts using records that voters verified themselves.”

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar praised the work of tens of thousands of poll workers across the commonwealth’s 9,145 voting locations.

“Poll workers play a critical role in our democracy. They interact directly with voters as they administer fair and reliable elections,” Boockvar said. “As a former poll worker, I know they work long hours and have a strong sense of civic responsibility. We are grateful for their service.”

We are also grateful.

And we should all be grateful that Lancaster County remains ahead of the curve in offering a secure and reliable polling place experience for all of its voters on Election Day.