Something very old is new again. Voters in Pike County will be turning back to the use of paper ballots beginning in the May 21, 2019, Primary Election.

MILFORD - Something very old is new again. Voters in Pike County will be turning back to the use of paper ballots beginning in the May 21, 2019, Primary Election.

The purpose is to follow a state-issued mandate which is requiring that each county by 2020, have a verifiable “paper trail” if it were ever necessary to confirm the number of ballots and votes cast. In place of the electronic voting machines, Pike County voters will now be inserting their completed paper ballot into a scanner machine which automatically tabulates the votes.

The first public presentation about the new system was made February 6 at the Pike County Commissioners’ meeting. Several public presentations will be announced ahead of the primary, said Commissioner Chairman Matthew Osterberg. Poll workers for the county’s 18 precincts will also receive full training in the new procedure.

In about two weeks, the new system will be set up for display and instruction at the Election Office at the County Administration Building, 506 Broad St., Milford.

Insert ballot in scanner’s slot

Commissioner Chairman Matthew Osterberg said that over the last few months the board did extensive research of vendors, and settled on Dominion Voting, the supplier the county has been using for the electronic touch-screen machines being replaced.

A total of 25 scanners were purchased, in order to place one in each of the 18 polling places and have a few for back-up. Voters who have visual impairment, may choose instead to use a new touch-screen voting machine which will also be placed in each polling station.

The county has been using 80 electronic machines, spread out among the 18 polls.

Instead, voters will take a paper ballot and pen, and sitting at any available “privacy booth,” will mark their votes and then insert the paper into the scanner machine’s slot before the voter leaves.

Votes put onto the touch-screen will be printed out on a paper ballot as well.

$206,000

This comes with a hefty price tag for the county.

The entire system is costing just over $206,000, but half of that is to be reimbursed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Nadine Manzoni, Pike County Elections Director noted. To help cover the remainder, however, approximately $68,000 is left from the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds issued to the county last year, which will be applied. That leaves about $136,000 for the county to pay. In January, the commissioners approved a bank note to cover the expense as well as to pay for capital improvements at county facilities.

Manzoni said that the system will dramatically cut down the work of the poll workers. Election results will be reported much faster that night.  

All the results will be on one small card, a little larger than a digital camera card. This will be removed by the poll workers from the scanner once the polls close, and the card will be carried to the Election Office in Milford. If there was any problem with the card, a back-up card is available from the scanner, and the next option would be deliver the actual paper ballots, John Hastings, Regional Sales Manager for Dominion Voting, said.

If the scanner were to malfunction, ballots can still be inserted, and they will be separated out for tabulation once the machine is fixed or a new scanner is brought down to the polling place.

A second scanner also can be brought down for an especially busy day of voting at a particular poll, Manzoni stated. More scanners can also be rented from Dominion.

Get ahead of 2020

The mandate came down early last summer from the Department of State that every county must have a voter-verifiable paper-based system by the 2020 election. “When this mandate came down my first thought was, there is no way I want to roll out a new system during the chaos of a presidential election,” Manzoni said. “Luckily, the commissioners agreed, Pike County is in a fiscal position for us to move forward and not have to wait for state funding come through…next year.”

She said this will give two elections for the poll workers and herself to be comfortable with the new system ahead of the busy presidential election.

“It is going to give voters the opportunity to ask questions about the new voting system and get comfortable to the new procedures at the polling place,” she said.

The mandate came about after a petition was filed in federal court in Philadelphia in 2016 by an attorney for the Green Party, Jill Stein. She wanted a recount for Pennsylvania’s Presidential 2016 election. As was reported, Stein raised $6.2 million to launch recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states where President-elect Donald Trump had won by about one percentage point.

Electronic voting systems did not provide the verifiable paper trail for such a ballot-by-ballot recount as was done in Florida after the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Manzoni commented that while she had full confidence in the accuracy of the electronic system the county had been using since 2006, there was never a 100 percent certainty like there will be available using a paper ballot system.

Hastings added that the scanners are not connected to the Internet and are therefore not susceptible to computer hacking. The electronic version was not tied to the Internet either.

Dominion Voting is buying back the old machines from the county.

Manzoni said that having paper ballots should bring some comfort to voters, knowing the votes can be verified if ever there was any question.