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Working out bugs in new voting machines

Published November 12. 2019 11:41AM

Four of the five counties in the Times News area rolled out new voting machines at this month’s general election, and to say that things did not go as planned would be a dramatic understatement.

There were major glitches in Carbon and Northampton counties, while in Lehigh and Monroe there were less serious problems, but there were complaints about lack of privacy in the process and failure on the part of election workers to provide prospective voters with security envelopes. Carbon had its share of privacy complaints along with concerns about bleed-through from the markers used on double-sided paper ballots.

Despite this, election officials in all four counties said that they are glad to have one election under their belts before the onslaught of voters expected next year when the presidency, all seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and other key races will be on the ballot.

For you voters in Schuylkill County, which does not have a new voting system in place, but one is expected to be selected in short order, it will have the potential for major issues if things do not go according to plan.

This change was mandated because of confirmed reports that Russian operatives tried to attack the voting apparatus in various states, including Pennsylvania, during the 2016 election. Although they were not successful, our legislators and Gov. Tom Wolf agreed that a paper trail was necessary, not just electronic footprints, and they required that all counties have new voting machines in place no later than the 2020 primaries.

With anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of registered voters casting ballots this year, the glitches caused by the new voting machines were not catastrophic. Results in Carbon and Northampton counties were judged to be inaccurate election night and into early the next morning, prompting delays with unofficial results being relayed to the public early the next morning. Both counties have begun the tedious job of hand-counting every ballot, a process that is likely to take more than a week.

With the expected intense interest in next year’s presidential election and voter turnout that could top 50 to 60%, voters could be facing long lines and ballots that will take more time to fill out.

The other potential issue is that a new election law signed recently by Wolf will be in force, meaning that next November voters will not be able to cast straight-party votes. Instead of filling in one oval, voters will have to fill in each candidate’s oval, even if they want to vote for every candidate of the same party. Multiply this by the thousands who cast straight-party votes, and you can get an idea of the extra time this will take across the system.

But there is some good news in the new election laws. If you prefer, you don’t even have to go to the polls. Starting next year, you can request a ballot to mail. Until now, only those who were going to be away or had infirmities or other good reason that prevented them from voting in person could request absentee ballots.

Our area was not the only one that had problems on Election Day. York County’s paper ballots were not sized correctly for the scanners, creating long lines and mass confusion. In all, 35 counties, including the four in our area, used new systems at this year’s election.

Schuylkill County is expected to choose a system similar to what Lehigh County is using. If so, they will no doubt learn about some of the privacy concerns that occurred there.

Tim Benyo, Lehigh’s chief clerk of elections, said that better privacy policies will be put into place. Many Lehigh voters filled out ballots at unsecure tables, even though polling places had areas that provided more privacy.

When I voted in North Whitehall Township, for example, the secure area was not pointed out by the election official who handed me my ballot, nor was I was aware that I could have requested an envelope into which I could have placed my completed paper ballot to carry it from the table to the scanner.

At the scanner, an election official instructed me, but the ballot was visible the entire time. Every voter should be handed a privacy envelope. Also, curtains from old voting machines will be used, and staff will undergo better training to address these privacy concerns, Benyo said.

The Department of State, which oversees elections, issued this statement: “As we look to the 2020 election, we will continue our close collaboration and communications with the counties so that all may learn from the experiences of one another. We plan to reinforce the need to plan effectively the appropriate amount of voting equipment and expanded poll worker training. We also will focus our efforts on educating voters about the new voting systems, as well as the significant election reforms recently signed into law.”

The state Constitution guarantees voters the right to cast a secret ballot. If this election was any measurement, much more needs to be done.

By Bruce Frassinelli |

"confirmed reports that Russian operatives tried to attack the voting apparatus in various states"
The old machines weren't networked, only plug in to an AC outlet, how would anyone hack it? I'm encouraging mail in ballot to reduce lines and stress on the poll workers.
There were different machines across the municipalities but the truth is they don’t need to be networked to be hacked. The problem in PA was there were few machines with paper backup ballots so there was no way to confirm votes. This is why trump directed the states to go to machines with paper back up.

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