Pennsylvania starts process of moving to paper trail for ballots.
DOYLESTOWN >> Joseph Sickora stood before the voting machine Dec. 13 at the Bucks County Administration Building and pondered the question before him.
“Should we allocate the funds for that public works project that many think we are in dire need of but that others believe is a waste of the taxpayers’ dollars?” it read.
The Doylestown resident answered, “Yes.”
And, although it was just a demonstration, the machine and others like it there that night were examples of what’s to come no later than the 2020 primary. In April, the Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres told counties they have to select voting systems that provide a paper ballot trail by the end of 2019 for use no later than the 2020 primary.
“The real goal is for all voters to be voting on machines that meet current security and accessibility standards including the use of voter-certified ballots,” said Kathy Boockvar, Gov. Tom Wolf’s senior adviser on election modernization, adding that national security experts in the last two years have come to a similar conclusion. “Everybody agrees that we need to have a verified paper trail.”
Among those backing the update to voting machines are the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Throughout Pennsylvania, and in Delaware County, voters use Direct Recording Electronic voting machines. They will have until Dec. 31, 2019, to pick paper ballot voting machines. Pennsylvania is one of 13 states that still use the DREs, while the rest use paper-based voting systems.
Todd V. Urosevich, regional sales manager of Election Systems & Software, explained that some of the concerns about voting systems date back to the infamous Bush/Gore election of 2000 that wound up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There’s a certain amount of baggage, if you will, that they wanted to avoid,” he said, adding that that election brought national attention to the types of voting machines that were used. “The most common question we got then was, ‘Wow, how come everybody doesn’t do it the same?’”
That was rooted in states’ rights, he explained.
Now, Urosevich said the most-asked question asked is, “How can your systems be hacked?”
He said they can’t. “These systems, even before ‘16, and I’ll speak for our other vendors as well, they’re all standalone devices,” he explained. “They are not connected to the Internet ... and that’s by design. Even before ‘16, we were recognizing you don’t want to connect these devices.”
So far, Pennsylvania has received $13.5 million in federal funds for the machines. That, coupled with the state match, makes $14.5 million available. The machines themselves range from $5,500 to $12,000, according to manufacturers. Some counties, like Delaware, have hundreds of polling places.
Gov. Tom Wolf wants to fund half the costs of the machines for the counties and he anticipates working with the General Assembly to secure that funding.
On Dec. 13, the Pennsylvania Department of State held a demonstration of some of the paper ballot machines at the Bucks County Administration Building. It was one of five that will be held throughout the state so voters and county officials can get a firsthand look at the devices.
At the demonstration, five vendors presented their equipment to the public. Of those, two – Unisyn/ ElectionIQ LLC and Election Systems & Solutions – have received the required certification from the federal Election Assistance Commission and the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth. Dominion Voting is anticipated to receive certification soon with Electec’s Clear Ballot and Hart Intercivic not far behind.
“There’s two types of machines that you’re seeing here,” said Ingrid Giordano, regional sales manager of Clear Ballot. “Everything has a paper ballot of some sort. Some systems, a machine marks the paper. Our system, and others too, the voter marks the ballot.”
With the Clear Ballot system, voters physically fill in a circle on a paper to indicate their choice before scanning it into a machine.
“Our scanner is actually capturing a higher resolution image so it’s a gray scale image,” Giordano explained, so it can read a variety of markings from the circle not being fully filled to a check mark to a highlighter being used. “We image all of that and we can tabulate all of that. We don’t really need a machine to make a better quality mark because we’re actually capturing that better image.”
If the image can’t be read, the scanner will stop, return the ballot and notify the voter of the problem.
“The voter has the opportunity to remedy the situation.”
Other machines were similar to Dominion Voting, where voters make a choice on a tablet, which then prints out a ballot to be placed into a scanner.
“Dominion is a transparent, secure and flexible option and cost effective using these off-the-shelf components,” said John Hastings, regional sales manager, adding that parts are similar to what is accessible in office equipment.
Ron Clevenger, vice president of sales for Hart Intercivic, spoke of the merits of Hart’s systems.
“These machines are built on a modern platform just the last few years,” he said. “They’re built to last for the next 20 years and because they’re not modified or bolted onto older platforms, they have all the most modern security features in the industry.”
Some of those include using digital signatures and encryption, no network interface ports of any kind and port obfuscation.
“And, maybe, most importantly, we use white listing,” Clevenger said.
“People know what black listing is – that means don’t let me run all these bad programs. White listing is the complete opposite, it says only run this program. So if anybody tried to get it, it would never run anything that’s not authorized by its own device.”
Some are pleased to see the state moving in this direction.
Jenifer Maslow of Citizens for Better Elections has been advocating for two years to have Pennsylvania counties move to a paper ballot system.
“I questioned an election and that’s how I started to do research and learn about voting machines,” the Montgomery County resident said of that year’s general election. “I didn’t understand how it happened.”
With paper ballots, she said, “That is the way a voter can verify their vote and there’s always a way to check the election with paper.”
Sheri Keshishian of Wynnewood, Pa., who also works with Citizens for Better Elections, said paper ballot voting machines can also be faster.
“It’ll ... prevent a lot of the long lines,” she said. “Doing these systems, people are marking their ballots and then shoving them through.”
They spoke of power outages.
“Even if the electricity goes out, everybody can still vote,” Maslow said.
She said counties are moving toward the systems.
Of Montgomery County, Maslow said, “They’re going forward with it. They put it in their budget this year and we are going to see a new system spring 2019.”
Delaware County officials are preparing for the purchase of these machines for their precincts.
Chester County, Maslow said, has been voting with paper ballots for more than a decade, but are upgrading anyway.
“I have spoken to people that work at the polls there and they’ve said it’s super easy, super fast and they like it,” she said.
Sickora, who belongs to the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, said there are challenges with the DRE’s and the paper ballot machines as he himself had difficulty with entering a write-in candidate on one of the machines Dec. 13.
“I’ve come to respect how hard it is to come up with something that meets the different skill levels in any community and certainly the blind community has its share of different skill levels,” he said.
That said, Sickora said, “I’m not going to meet anybody who doesn’t sincerely want this thing to work out.”
State officials see a plethora of benefits stemming from using paper ballot voting systems.
“People feel more secure, understandably, when they can see confirmation of who they voted for,” Boockvar said. “So, not only do they get to verify by looking at it, but then also that’s the paper record for audits and recounts. So, it’s not pushing the buttons and hoping that the machine is spitting out the right information. It’s visually confirmable who you voted for and that makes a big difference to voters.
“You combine the confidence in the electorate with the defense of homeland security, it’s the right thing to do for the voters,” she said.
Kathy Boockvar, senior adviser to the Gov. Tom Wolf on election modernization, oversees a demonstration of voting machines with a paper ballot in Doylestown Dec. 13.
Ron Clevenger, vice president of sales for Hart Intercivic, assists Joseph Sickora of Doylestown in using an accessible voting device for the blind.
Kathy Boockvar works the tables during a seminar Dec. 13 demonstrating new voting machines as the state prepares the massive task of beefing up voting security.
Daniel Chalupsky, vice president of ElectionIQ, shows how a paper ballot voting machine works at the Bucks County Administration Building.
State officials are mulling new methods of securing ballots.