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Carbon voting machine donated to state museum

A historic lever voting machine, many of which hit the scrap heap, has found a new home in the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. The donation comes from Towamensing Township resident Roy Christman, who rescued the machine 17 years ago, believing it held significant historical value.

“I just couldn’t see all of the voting machines being scrapped back in 2006. I thought someone should save at least one of them,” said Christman, who also serves on the Towamensing Township Planning Commission and the historical society.

Christman and Carbon County Commissioner Rocky Ahner delivered the machine to Harrisburg on Friday.

At a Carbon County commissioners’ meeting in 2006, Christman successfully bid $50 for one of the 73 old lever voting machines being sold due to federal regulations rendering them obsolete. His was the only bid accepted; an offer from Weiner Iron & Metal Corp. of Pottsville to buy all 73 machines for a total of $73 was rejected. The 800-pound baby blue behemoths, as the machines were described in a newspaper report from Sept. 1, 2006, were replaced by touch-screen electronic voting machines as mandated by the Help America Vote Act.

Since purchasing the machine, Christman has stored it at his Pohopoco Road property. However, with the need to clean out his shed and the state museum’s interest in the machine, Christman decided to donate it to the museum.

“I’m happy they are taking it and they are happy to get it,” he said. “This machine was used back before people questioned elections. People accepted the results. It is a relic of a nicer time.”

The machine was used in Packer Township, according to Kenneth Leffler, former Carbon County director of elections.

“These machines were built in the late 1960s or early 1970s,” Leffler said. “We bought them from a warehouse in Texas in the early 1990s to replace the mechanical machines we had been using since shortly after World War II.”

Leffler worked on these machines from when they were first introduced in Carbon County around 1994 until they were retired in 2005.

“Seeing it, it was like I went back 30 years,” he said. “I would strip them down after the election and clear the votes and reprogram them. It’s an amazing machine how it worked. Whoever designed them was pretty smart,” he added.

The lever machines were designed in such a way that a person would enter the booth and pull the lever, which would then close a curtain around them. After casting their votes, the voter would release the curtain handle, and a counter in the back would increase the vote count by one.

The rarity of such machines, Christman said, is what makes the donation so special. “At one time everyone was using them, but it could be one of the last ones left and that is why the state museum wants it, who knows,” Leffler speculated.

The museum, Christman said, may use the machine for educational purposes, offering an interactive experience for visitors.

“Kids can go in it and vote for someone,” Christman said. “I’m just glad it is finding a home.”

Kenneth Leffler, former Carbon County director of elections, hand cranks an old voting machine, which owner Roy Christman of Towamensing Township is donating to the State Museum of Pennsylvania. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS
Roy Christman of Towamensing Township is donating this old Carbon County voting machine to the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Christman bought the machine for $50 in 2006 after the county phased them out. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS