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Centre County to spend $1.2 million to buy new voting machines

New voting machines costing $1.2 million will be hitting Centre County in the next couple of months, after county Commissioners approved the purchase at their meeting Tuesday.

The move follows a state mandate last April requiring counties to purchase new voting machines by the 2020 election, many discussions about cost and models and two voting machine expos late last year.

“This allows us to stay paper based with our ballots, it improves the ADA accessibility with these new machines and it gives us some really good safeguarding improvements that we may not have had with our current machines,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Michael Pipe.

The 200 new machines are from Election Systems & Software and will include three different models. Though the equipment itself only costs $860,571, the combined hardware warranties, support services and maintenance bring the total up to $1,192,571 over a five-year period.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf released his state budget proposal for 2019-2020, which includes a proposed $15 million each year for five years to “begin to pay for a portion of the cost that will be incurred by the counties to get these new systems in operation.” That brings the total pledged by Wolf to Pennsylvania counties for voting systems to $75 million according to a press release from the Department of State.

As far as Pipe is aware, he said, the state has pledged $185,000 toward Centre County voting machines.

Though the requirement from the Department of State was for counties to have voter-verified paper record voting systems chosen by Dec. 31, 2019, with this early purchase, Centre County will be able to have residents voting on the new machines by the May primary election.

“(We are) probably one of the few counties that will be deploying (voting machines) in May, rather than November,” said Centre County Elections and Voter Registration Director Joyce McKinley.

The new voting machines will be very similar to the current ones, which were purchased refurbished 11 years ago but were created in 1996, the Centre Daily Times reported in September 2018. The new system, said McKinley, is also a paper ballot system with optical ballot scan technology.

Voters with disabilities — or people who simply don’t want to mark a paper ballot — also have the option of voting via touchscreen. If the touchscreen option is selected, the voter marks their choices on the screen (and in voters with low visibility, may use a toggle and audio directions), receives a paper printout of their selections to verify that they were correct and then feeds the printed ballot into the scanner.

That will also be a boon for election workers, said Commissioner Mark Higgins, because not only are the machines from the same vendor the county previously used, but they will provide some productivity advantages.

Since the new machines collate the write-in ballot votes, election workers won’t have to hand tally those votes and can focus on other duties, said McKinley.

New machine training for election workers and county officials — which is included in the cost of the maintenance agreement — will happen a month or two before the primary election.

Commissioner Steve Dershem said at first he was wary of the mandated voting machine replacement, because despite its age, “I still think our equipment works very well.” But, he added, “this is an upgrade to that, but it hopefully will serve the citizens of our county for many, many generations.”

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