Commissioners believe the digital touchscreen machines will be in place for the general election.
Reading, PA —
The Berks County commissioners Thursday approved spending nearly $4.5 million on new voter-verifiable machines, fulfilling a state-mandated directive that all voting systems produce a paper trail to track the ballots.
Commissioner Mark C. Scott cast the sole vote against buying the voting machines from Election Systems & Software, Omaha, Neb.
Scott said he understands the transition has to happen before the 2020 presidential primary as part of a settlement over a federal vote-counting lawsuit filed against the state by 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, but he believes the process was rushed by the state and more time is needed to consider systems that may cost the county less money.
He pointed out that Montgomery County commissioners recently approved the purchase of a paper balloting system from Dominion Voting Systems that would cost about $1.4 million less than the digital touchscreen machines that ES&S are offering.
“It’s an option that I believe should be considered, especially since our larger neighbor to the east of us decided that it was a superior option,” Scott told his colleagues. “There is also a difference of over a million dollars.”
Commissioners Kevin S. Barnhardt and Christian Y. Leinbach also offered reasoning for their decision.
They said election officials have considered many different options during the more than a year they spent on this effort. And that research revealed digital touchscreen machines would provide a greater sense of confidence to voters over paper balloting where mistakes could be made during the marking process and would end up costing about the same over time due to the price of printing paper ballots.
Barnhardt and Leinbach also pointed out that the recommendation was largely based on the positive feedback they received about the ES&S machines from the 115 people and 450 poll workers who showed up last month to the Berks County Agricultural Center to test them.
Leinbach said approving the purchase now will allow the county to have the new machines in place by the 2019 general election. The plan is to display the machines at some of the larger precincts throughout the county during the May primary and hold a handful of demonstrations this summer to prepare voters for the change.
“It would be extremely foolish, in a presidential election, to throw a brand-new voting system at voters,” he said.
Also at the meeting:
Leinbach and Scott voted against two resolutions: one that would have allowed developer Vesper at Berks to accept a $1 million state grant to make improvements to the West Run Business Park, Windsor Township, and another that would have allowed Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 19 in Bethel Township to accept a $1 million state grant to bolster certain programs.
Scott said he believes Vesper and the union have enough money to operate without these grants.
Leinbach said he has a problem being asked to guarantee those grants without knowing much about how those two entities are operated and managed. He further explained that he would, however, support a resolution allocating a $1.5 million state grant to the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust because he has more confidence and knowledge of the way they handle their finances.
Barnhardt voted in support of all three resolutions.
Kenneth L. Pick, executive director of the Berks County Redevelopment Authority, said he will now ask the municipalities in which Vesper and the union are located to lend their support those resolutions.
Leinbach announced that county officials and union representatives will be meeting with Kelly Andrisano, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Affiliated Healthcare and Living Communities, sometime within the next week to develop a statewide strategy to keep the Berks Heim under county control.
The hope, he said, is that they will work together to convince the other 16 counties who own nursing homes to join forces in lobbying the state to change the way the intergovernmental transfer program currently works and to boost Medicaid reimbursement rates.
In the meantime, Leinbach said the county continues to negotiate with the unions on possible concessions and representatives from the law firm hired to market the facility is working on setting up tours with five companies interested in purchasing the nursing home.