voting system check

Shirley Crowl, Cambria County Election Director (right) watches Thursday as Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and President Commissioner Tom Chernisky place their votes on a paper ballot during a practice run.

EBENSBURG – Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State visited the Cambria County Courthouse Thursday to present a check to help reimburse county officials’ recent purchase of a new voting system, and she also tried out the new process for herself.

Kathy Boockvar first presented the county commissioners with a check for $138,288, a portion of federal funding and a state match Gov. Tom Wolf set aside in 2018 to assist counties with the costs of new voting systems.

Boockvar said Cambria County was “ahead of the curve” as one of the first to act on this funding opportunity, as it complied with a state directive last year ordering counties to make the switch to equipment with voter-verifiable and auditable paper ballots.

“That’s a huge level of confidence for every voter,” she said.

Counties were directed to implement their new voting systems no later than the 2020 primary election, but Cambria officials have opted to have the new machines in place in November to allow time for poll workers to be trained ahead of what’s expected to be a busy presidential election year.

“Protecting the integrity of elections is a fundamental role of county government,” President Commissioner Tom Chernisky said. “The commissioners have worked to make election security a top priority by having new machines ready to go in the general election of 2019.”

Boockvar credited the commissioners’ decision and said, “thanks to the commissioners’ leadership, county residents can feel confident that every vote will be accurately counted and securely protected by the latest election technology.”

The county authorized an agreement in May with ES&S Voting Machine Systems for new voting machines, precinct tabulators, scanners and express marking devices for about $1.3 million.

Paying for the machines was one of the first concerns, added Commissioner Mark Wissinger.

“This certainly is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I think it’s a good day for the voters of Cambria County.”

Cambria County Controller Ed Cernic Jr. said the county has paid a $400,000 down payment and has money set aside for the remaining balance.

The commissioners told Boockvar they hope there’s more funding to come from the state to help offset the expense.

Earlier this month, Wolf vetoed a bill that included plans to issue $90 million to reimburse counties for voting machines costs, but also proposed the elimination of straight-party voting as a single-button option on Pennsylvania ballots.

Wolf later announced the state would fund up to $90 million to reimburse counties for 60 percent of their voting machine costs, with the Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development Financing Authority issuing bonds and the Department of State making grants available.

The commissioners have approved a resolution declaring their intent to reimburse the county with the proceeds of an issuance of municipal bonds to purchase new election machines and related equipment, a measure that makes the county eligible for Wolf’s proposal.

Crowl said she and her staff have already begun training with the new equipment and software, while poll workers will be trained in September.

“We’re excited to get started in this process,” Crowl said.

Crowl’s office will have to cover some one-time costs in preparation for November, not just for paper ballots, but for privacy screens, tables and other supplies.

Next week, Crowl’s office will allow spectators at the AAABA Tournament in Johnstown to try out the new voting system by casting sample ballots at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point.

During the Aug. 8 games, a mock polling place will be set up near the stadium’s concession stands, with a five-question ballot for participants to fill out.

At the end of the night, election officials will run a report as they will on election night to collect the data from each paper ballot and announce the results.

​Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.

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