Pa. certifies just 1 voting machine; county won?t buy
Not one of Pennsylvania?s 67 counties has purchased state-approved voting machines, and Lancaster, like other counties, is seeing the Dec. 31 deadline hovering closer.
By Daniel Burke Lancaster New Era 03 November 2005
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - In the statewide scramble to replace mechanical voting machines, only one thing is certain: Nov. 8 will be the last time Pennsylvanians cast their votes with a lever.
With federal and state election officials tardy in setting guidelines and certifying machines ? and a Dec. 31 deadline looming ? almost everything else is up in the air.
?We?re the people at the end of the line. We?re the ones whose schedules are compressed,? said Mike Burnette, an information services manager with the county?s information technology department.
In order to receive $1.86 million in federal aid, the county must choose new voting machines by Dec. 31.
Although a Department of State spokesman said Wednesday that a ?handful? of new voting machines may be certified in the near future, to date only one model has met state specifications.
That model, AccuPoll Inc.?s Direct Electronic Voting Machine, provides election services in Pennsylvania through a company county officials have had trouble with in the past.
Contracted in 2000 to supply an intermunicipal police information sharing system, that company, Blue Bell -based Unisys Corp., failed to deliver on its promises. The county threatened to sue the company until Unisys finally fulfilled its contractual obligations in 2004, Burnette said.
?We?re not interested in buying (the AccuPoll),? Burnette told county commissioners Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson Tuesday. ?We have not had good business relations with Unisys.?
Moreover, the state certified the AccuPoll only under the condition that its ?voter verified paper audit trail? feature be removed. State election officials were concerned about ?vote buying,? should voters be allowed to carry ?receipts? of their votes from a polling place.
?There?s one certified machine and it doesn?t have a paper trail,? Henderson said Tuesday. ?This is ridiculous.?
With the dearth of available options, the commissioners urged county election officials Wednesday to lobby the Pennsylvania Department of State to help push back the federal deadline.
Mary Stehman, chief clerk of the county board of elections, said she would draft the letter by Friday.
But Department of State spokesman Brian McDonald said there?s not much the state can do about the deadline.
?That?s not a call we can make,? he said.
Not one of Pennsylvania?s 67 counties has purchased state-approved voting machines, McDonald said.
Like the other counties, if Lancaster misses the deadline, the $1.8 million federal grant goes away. Federal requirements, however, don?t ? so the county will still have to buy new voting machines.
According to 2002?s federal Help America Vote Act, all municipalities must replace their voting machines with models that are capable of manually auditing tallies and that are accessible to disabled voters.
But President Bush waited until 2004 to create the Election Assistance Commission, which would set new guidelines. To this day, those guidelines have yet to be finalized, according to EAC spokeswoman Jeannie Layson.
States have some leeway in choosing machines. The only binding requirements relate to manual audits and handicap accessibility, Layson said.
On Oct. 18 and 19, county election officials hosted demonstrations featuring four new electronic election machines.
According to a poll taken there, the public had a slight preference for the UniLect Patriot touch screen.
The state decertified that machine Oct. 21.