At a meeting attended by about 50 supporters of dueling voting systems, Northampton County Council voted 8-1 last night to approve a $2.9 million contract to purchase a new touchscreen voting system with a voter-verified paper trail. County officials expect to have it in place for November's election. The sole dissenting vote came from Council member Bob Werner.
This purchase was delayed by Council to see how this new system worked in Delaware, which conducted school board races on Tuesday. Northampton County's administrator Amy Cozze attended this election as an official observer, and reported the machines were unqualified success. Her endorsement was echoed by a Delaware State election official who phoned in. Castle Point, a Delaware newspaper, reports that county officials in the First State give the new system an A.
This is an unfunded mandate. Last year, Pennsylvania's Department of State directed all 67 counties to select new voting systems that include a voter verifiable paper trail, making post-election audits more accurate. They must be in place before the 2020 primary. Though the statewide cost of his change is estimated at $125 million to $150 million, the state has yet to provide any of the funding. The federal government has provided a $342,000 grant to Northampton County.
The Express Vote XL is a 32" touch screen similar to the system currently in use. It was the overwhelming and nonpartisan choice of election judges who attended a day-long presentation of different voting systems earlier this year. In March, the Elections Commission voted 3-2 to endorse this system over paper ballots that would be scanned.
Opponents of Express Vote XL, some of whom spoke several times, expressed security concerns even though it is a stand alone system with no network connection. They also complained that a vote could flip after it is cast, going to a different candidate than the person selected. They also argued that moving the machine would present calibration issues, making it inaccurate. They also criticized a bar code on ballots.
These concerns were discounted by ExpressVote XL vendors. There is no Internet connection. Testing on the state and federal level revealed that flipping is nonexistent. There also is no calibration problem. Vendors also pointed out that barcodes are common everywhere, from grocery store to hospital.
Numerous election judges and poll workers spoke in support of the new system. They argued it would be familiar to voters and present none of the privacy concerns or multiple lines that would accompany paper ballots.
In addition to election judges, Elections Commissioner Maude Hornick said she supported ExpressVote XL because she wants no election official to decide how she intended to vote.
Trudy Fatzinger, Secretary of Pennsylvania Council for the Blind, reported that ExpressVote XL is handicapped-friendly. This was a selling point to Executive Lamont McClure, who observed that 25% of Pennsylvania's registered voters have some form of disability.
What sold Council member Matt Dietz was money. When this matter was tabled a few weeks ago, Administrator Charles Dertinger warned that the County would be forced to be $20,000 in shipping costs. At Dietz' request, the vendor agreed to wave this additional cost.