It looks like McKean County –– and the rest of the state –– will likely get new voting machines –– at least partly funded by the federal government.
On Thursday, Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres informed counties to have voter-verifiable paper record voting systems selected no later than Dec. 31, 2019, and preferably in place by the November 2019 general election.
For now, though, Dinah Gallegos, director of McKean County Elections, said the current equipment is secure, accurate and reliable.
“At this point in time, it is too early to know how much it would cost our county to procure new equipment,” Gallegos said. “The $13.5 million designated to PA by the federal government will be dispersed to all 67 counties and at this point in time we do not have any idea how much would filter down to McKean County.”
Congress recently appropriated $380 million for election security under the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2018. Each state’s allocation requires a 5-percent state match, bringing Pennsylvania’s total funding package to $14.15 million.
“We elect candidates for federal, state and local offices and our county should not be forced to accept the rest of the financial responsibility for new equipment,” Gallegos said. “On election day we are currently sending 99 machines to the precincts throughout the county.”
The state department is also exploring options to assist funding or financing the upgrades, including lease agreements, grant opportunities, state, local, and additional federal appropriations, partnerships and bonds.
“We have been planning for some time to bring Pennsylvania’s voting machines up to 21st-century standards of security, auditability and resiliency,” Torres said. “The federal assistance could not come at a more opportune moment.”
The County Commissioners of Pennsylvania expressed caution and appreciation on the state directive.
“The single greatest impediment to system upgrades, though, is the lack of a funding source to meet the estimated $125 million price tag,” officials at County Commissioners of Pennsylvania said.
Previously, counties had established backing for state and federal funding to replace voting equipment as one of the top priorities for this year.
“With more than a decade of stagnant appropriations across the spectrum of programs counties provide on the commonwealth’s behalf, few counties have resources on hand to meet the expected cost,” County Commissioners of Pennsylvania officials said. “The progress toward funding over the next year and a half will determine county capacity to meet the state requirement without placing the burden on the property tax payer.”
Meanwhile, County Commissioners of Pennsylvania officials said that counties maintain a secure chain of custody for equipment, and equipment doesn’t interface with the internet.
“For each election, each voting machine is subject to calibration and to accuracy and logic testing, and sealed prior to deployment. The county also verifies operation once in the polling place, and performs post-election review,” officials said.
Officials from election offices in Elk, Potter and Cameron counties did not immediately return an email seeking comment for this story.