Cambria County voters will cast paper ballots this fall using a new voting system.
A unanimous vote Thursday during a regular Cambria County Commissioners meeting at Johnstown’s Incline Plane authorized an agreement with ES&S for new voting machines in the amount of about $1.3 million.
Last week, three Cambria County judges voted to implement a new voting system that follows a state mandate for all counties to purchase machines with voter-verifiable ballots and paper records of votes cast.
President Judge Norman Krumenacker, Judge David Tulowitzki and Judge Tamara Bernstein voted to proceed with ES&S Voting Machine Systems for precinct tabulators, scanners and express marking devices.
The judges acted as the voting board of elections for the county at Wednesday’s meeting because the county commissioners are up for election in 2019.
The agreement approved by the commissioners Thursday will also include the purchase of license, maintenance and support fees for $191,740 and extended hardware warranty fees of $27,335.
Krumenacker said it’d be ideal to have it in place for this fall’s general municipal election.
“I think this is a good move to get this up and running before the presidential election year,” agreed Commissioner William “B.J.” Smith
Controller Ed Cernic Jr.’s office has provided funds for a down payment and plans to use reserves and capital reserve funds to cover the remaining balance. Shirley Crowl, director of elections, said the county will also seek any available state or federal grant funds to offset the cost.
The state opted to require voter-verifiable paper ballots or paper records of votes cast last year in an effort to enhance auditability and security, giving counties a deadline of 2020 to purchase machines in alignment with the mandate.
Crowl said she looked into three companies, including ES&S. The other companies were more expensive and did not include battery backup in case of a power outage.
Under federal law, each precinct is required to have at least one electronic system – an express vote ballot marking device – to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Aside from one machine at each precinct, voters will go back to filling out paper ballots that will be scanned by poll workers.
The contract with ES&S includes precinct scanner and tabulator and express vote ballot marking device for each of the county’s 125 precincts, along with a few extra in case of maintenance.
This system will replace the county’s current electronic voting machines, which are approximately 10 years old.
Crowl said the new system will allow for more accurate unofficial election results to include absentee ballots. Counties are required to buy paper ballots for 110 percent of the population, which allows for spare ballots in case any are ruined. Additional ballots can be printed if necessary, she said.
Census committee forming
The commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution creating a Census 2020 Complete Count Committee to plan and conduct local educational initiatives, publicity and promotional activities to increase community awareness and participation in the 2020 U.S. Census.
Rick Buck, partnership specialist with the Philadelphia Regional Census Center, said population affects governmental representation and funding for local government, transportation, schools, upgrades to infrastructure and more.
“The census is the foundation of our representative democracy,” Buck said. “Without a doubt, the census affects every citizen of Cambria County.”
Buck said officials are on schedule, on course and on budget to conduct the most complete U.S. Census in history.
Many speculate that the census will take Cambria County from its Fourth Class status to a Fifth Class county, which would mean a decrease in funding state and federal agencies and possible consolidation of county row offices or reduction of the number of county employees.
“Our population is declining,” Commissioner Mark Wissinger said. “We’re concerned about that.”
Smith said the numbers from the 2020 U.S. Census are vital, as they will determine the county’s representation and funding sources for the following 10 years.
Bel Air Plaza tax appeal
A tax appeal settlement for the Bel Air Plaza along Scalp Avenue was also granted approval by the commissioners.
County Solicitor Bill Barbin said the county is required by law to base real estate taxes on the fair market value of properties. Property owners have the right to seek an appraisal if they feel the fair market value of their property is more than it should be.
Bel Air Plaza Associates appealed their Scalp Avenue property’s $2 million fair market value and received an appraisal for $1.3 million, Barbin said.
Richland School District officials negotiated with the property owners and settled on a new fair market value of
$1.7 million for the property, which equates to about $400,000 higher than the appraisal received, Barbin said.