PA ELECTION NEWS & INFO
October 30, 2019 -- Tuesday afternoon the PA General Assembly passed SB 421: the largest election bill in decades. Upon the Governor’s signature, this bill will bring huge changes to the way Pennsylvanians vote. But on Tuesday the PA House and Senate took only a few hours to consider this 125-page measure in its full, completed form before ramming it through roll call votes to final passage.
Although a handful of things in this hasty bill might improve our elections, the cost and risk it brings to Pennsylvania’s voting systems – the machinery and method by which our voters actually cast their ballots -- far outweigh any benefit.
SB 421 Ties the Hands of the Secretary of the Commonwealth in the Face of Danger
The Secretary of the Commonwealth has the responsibility to certify and decertify voting equipment for use in Pennsylvania elections. With today’s constant threats to cybersecurity and infrastructure, the Secretary’s power to decertify equipment quickly is especially important in the event that a dangerous problem is suddenly discovered in a Pennsylvania voting machine or its software.
SB 421 removes this power from the Secretary when any voting machine is used in more than fifty percent of the Commonwealth. To decertify widely used voting equipment, even machines that are found to be dangerous, the Secretary would have to go through a lengthy process of making proposals to various committees and leadership of the PA House and Senate. The required timetable would be six months or more. In the meantime, our elections would potentially be placed at grave risk because Pennsylvania counties would likely continue using the insecure voting system while this process played out.
SB 421 Rewards Counties That Make Bad Choices of Voting Equipment
Computer scientists tell us that a system of hand-marked paper ballots, a modern digital scanner, and an assistive ballot marking device for voters who need it in each precinct is most secure and least costly voting method currently available. These experts say that a plain, fifty-cent pen works better than a touchscreen for most people and is much safer.
Unfortunately, some Pennsylvania counties are foolishly spending twice or more than necessary in order to provide touchscreen ballot marking devices (BMDs) for all voters, despite being warned by computer scientists, election experts, and regular citizens NOT to buy these devices for people who don’t need them. Most of the current touchscreen BMDs use hackable barcodes or QR codes to count votes. But the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania's Election Security recommended not that counties neither buy nor use barcode or QR code devices because no human voter can read the codes that are actually doing the tallying. There is no way for any voter to truly verify that his or her ballot is being counted as intended.
SB421 would float $90 million dollars in bonds to pay for 60% of the actual cost of whatever new voting system each county buys. This means that counties making the foolish choice to buy these unnecessary and unverifiable touchscreens for every voter (including counties wasting $9100 apiece* on the incredibly controversial ExpressVoteXL) would get more money than wise counties that purchase the secure, cost-effective, “gold standard” hand-marked paper ballot systems. The debt service alone on these bonds will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers $10.55 million dollars per year.**
VotePA Opposes SB 421 as Passed
VotePA definitely believes that Pennsylvania needs to fund new voting systems. But the money needs to be spent wisely and distributed in a fair and cost-effective manner. Money should be allocated to counties by voter population only, or the state should cover 60% of what a basic hand-marked paper ballot system would cost and no more. No extra money should go to counties that make unnecessary and expensive choices, meaning no extra money for ballot markers beyond the one accessible device per precinct required by federal law. Every voter does not need one of these touchscreens that potentially doubles the cost to our taxpayers and is actually less secure than the hand-marked paper ballot alternative.***
Most importantly, we do not support tying the hands of the Secretary of the Commonwealth to a 180-day timetable to decertify bad election equipment. Cyber threats to our elections are emerging almost daily. If any piece of election equipment or software is found to be insecure or dangerous, the Secretary of the Commonwealth must be free to do his or her job and, if needed, immediately decertify that equipment or software for use in Pennsylvania elections.
We urge Governor Wolf NOT to sign SB 421. Pennsylvania elections can certainly be improved, but a huge bill that was passed without time for legislators to fully read and consider its final form is NOT the way to make things better. Instead, we urge the General Assembly to go back to the drawing board and come up with a series of well-planned concise bills, each dealing with a separate election reform. The lifeblood of our democracy -- our vote -- is at stake.
* Pa. Dept. of General Services, Costars-39.
** PA House Committee on Appropriations Fiscal Note, SB 421, October 28, 2019.
*** Pennsylvania Counties’ New Voting Systems: An Analysis, University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, available at www.cyber.pitt.edu/votingsystemsanalysis
September 26, 2019 -- VotePA commends the Allegheny County Election Board’s announced decision to purchase a new voting system that will provide a verified, hand-marked paper ballot to the majority of voters.
“We have long believed that a system based on hand-marked paper ballots is the “gold standard” meaning the most secure, most cost-effective, and overall best voting system available today and for the foreseeable future,” said VotePA President Marybeth Kuznik. “We are thrilled that Allegheny -- the second largest county in our state -- has chosen a gold-standard system.”
Since 2005, VotePA’s community of advocates and computer experts have advised all counties, including Allegheny, to select voting systems that provide a verified, hand-marked paper ballot to the majority of voters with an accessible assistive device in each precinct for voters who need it.
“Our only disappointment with the Allegheny County Board’s decision is the vendor chosen, ES&S, offers voters with disabilities so-called accessible ballot markers that count barcodes rather than human-readable words and marks,” Kuznik added. “Such ballots cannot be truly verified by the voters casting them because no voter can be sure the barcode correctly matches the words he or she saw or heard on the machine. Going forward, we urge Allegheny County officials to push their chosen vendor to improve this and to provide full verifiability and accessibility for voters with disabilities.”
VotePA recommends that all 67 Pennsylvania counties follow Allegheny County’s lead in choosing a voting system that provides hand-marked paper ballots to the majority of voters, and in paying close attention the risk-limiting audits that are the next step in the process of securing our elections.
JULY 18, 2019 -- This week approximately 200 registered voters from all over Pennsylvania submitted a petition to Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, asking for a re-examination of the ES&S ExpressVoteXL voting machine under Pennsylvania Law.VotePA and its members were happy to participate in this effort.
At $9,100 each, the ExpressVoteXL is the most expensive voting machine ever made. Weighing nearly 300 pounds it is large and heavy, yet fragile and cumbersome to move and store. But the ExpressVote XL’s excessive size and outrageous cost pales next to its security and design problems. There are many reasons for the Secretary of the Commonwealth to take another look at this machine and potentially decertify it against use in Pennsylvania.
ExpressVote XL counts votes using barcodes rather than words and marks each voter read and verified. No human being can read barcodes, so there is no way for any person to assure that the machine is recording his or her choices as intended. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania Election Security does not recommend using machines that produce barcodes because they are not human-readable.
The ExpressVote XL has a design flaw that allows the “paper record” for each voter to pass over the print head in the machine a second time before it is counted. This could potentially lead to spoiled ballots or added votes – and any voters affected will never know that the machine tampered with their choices.
The ExpressVoteXL is poorly-designed for voters with disabilities. For example, voters with low vision cannot read the small print on the “paper record” under glass that is supposed to enable them to verify their vote. Voters who use certain wheelchairs may not be able to reach the giant screen. In a previous state test in Harrisburg, every voter from the disability community reported problems voting on this machine.
Perhaps worst of all, over this past weekend, the Associated Press reported that the ExpressVote and ExpressVoteXL are being sold to our counties with dangerously outdated Windows 7 software that will reach its end-of-life in early 2019. Without an upgrade to a new version or extension of support of the old version from the vendors, this brand-new machine will be vulnerable to software failure and hackers – the exact thing new voting machines are supposed to prevent. And this in the year of the most important Presidential election in history.
VotePA urges the Acting Secretary to take a hard look at this device. She should consider how the ExpressVoteXL may put Pennsylvania’s elections at risk, and that it will cost our citizens an excessive amount of their hard-earned tax dollars. There are less costly and safer choices.
VotePA also urges all counties that are choosing new voting methods this summer to make the only wise, sane choice currently available. Hand-marked paper ballots, a modern digital scanner, and one assistive device in each precinct as required by federal law for voters who need it equal the most secure, most auditable, and least expensive voting system available today. Everyone does not need a $9,100 touchscreen to simply cast a ballot. A plain, fifty-cent pen works just as well for most people and is safer. The 2020 election is too important to both sides of the aisle to risk it on gimmicky touchscreens and ancient, unsupported software.
In the meantime, 200 Pennsylvania voters are asking Acting Secretary Boockvar to examine the ExpressVoteXL fully and to choose wisely. It makes no sense to waste taxpayers’ hard-earned money on a crazy-expensive, unproven device that is flawed and outdated before even one actual vote has been cast on it in a real Pennsylvania election.
25 P.S. § 3031.5.
Pa. Dept. of General Services, Costars-39.
VotePAis a statewide non-partisan alliance of groups and individuals fighting for voting rights and election integrity in Pennsylvania. We were formed in early 2005 to work for fair, accurate, and accessible elections for all in the Keystone State. You can learn more about our work at www.VotePA.us
New Voting Systems to be on Display All Around the State Starting This Week
November 26, 2018 -- The Pennsylvania Department of State has announced five Voting System Expo events at various locations around the state starting this week. This will be an opportunity for many to observe and try the new wares that vendors are offering to meet the new state requirements for paper-based voting.
IF YOU GO, please report back to us about the event. What vendors and machines were present? Was it well attended? What did voters in your area think of the new systems? Pictures and videos will be appreciated! Contact info for us is HERE.
We are especially anxious to learn if vendors are featuring their more costly touchscreen devices over the gold standard hand-marked paper ballot systems. Every voter does not need a touchscreen, but they are the "shiny objects" that will make vendors the most profit.
New Voting System Expos Schedule & Details
Date: Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Erie County Blasco Memorial Library
Address: 160 East Front Street, Erie, PA 16507
Parking: The Blasco Memorial Library offers ample free parking.
Date: Thursday, November 29, 2018
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Borough of State College Building- Council Chambers
Address: 243 South Allen Street. State College, PA 16801
Parking: Parking on-street $1.25/hour and there is also the Allen Street Parking Lot located at 233 South Allen Street, State College, PA 16801 which is $1.25/hour
Date: Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Lackawanna County Stadium
Address: 235 Montage Mountain Road, Moosic, PA 18507
Parking: The Lackawanna County Stadium offers ample free parking. Handicap parking is available in the lot, and elevators to the exhibit area will be clearly marked.
Date: Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Dickinson College Holland Union Building – Social Hall
Address: 28 N. College Street, Carlisle, PA 17013
Parking: There is free street parking available on W. High Street and W. Louther Street.
Date: Thursday, December 13, 2018
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Bucks County Administration Building
Address: 55 East Court Street, Doylestown, PA 18901
Parking: Parking available at the courthouse garage located at 200 N. Broad St., Doylestown, PA 18901.
Green Party goes to Pa. Capitol to demand more election oversight
Stein, the Green Party candidate, has now filed suit in federal and Philadelphia city courts.
One of the complaints the Greens have brought up time and again is the difficulty of auditing the vote in Pennsylvania. Many of the machines the commonwealth uses are paperless and don't create physical records of the votes cast.
Candice Hoke, a director of the Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection at Cleveland State University, said the machines have too many vulnerabilities.
"If we're going to use computers, we should use the same procedures that businesses routinely use," she said. "We require not only internal quality control measures, but external independent quality controls."
WATCH YOUR VOTING MACHINE 2016
Pennsylvania’s voting machines are all at least 11 years old, near the end of their expected life, and need to be replaced. As these computers get old, they become more likely to have problems on Election Day. If a voting machine displays any behavior that does not seem right, here are the steps you should take:
1) Make sure your final selections are absolutely correct on the machine face or review screen before you hit the “Vote” button!
2) If you’re having trouble, do NOT press the "Vote" button (once you do that, you have cast a ballot and will not be able to vote again!)
3) Get the Judge of Elections and other precinct officials to come over to the machine and observe what it is doing:
If something does not seem right, don’t let anyone tell you the machine is OK or brush you off.
Take notes about the problem. Ask the precinct officials to take notes too. Get the names and contact info for all people who observed the problem. Get the serial number of the offending machine if you can, or at least take note of its position in the room. If allowed, take a photo and/or video of the malfunction.
Ask the precinct officials to cancel your ballot, move you to another machine, and remove the offending machine from service.
Before you leave, have someone take a video of you outside the polling place telling your story. Give lots of detail about what happened while it is fresh in your mind. And tell other voters in line and people outside the poll which machine was malfunctioning, so they can demand to vote on another machine.
CALL THE VotePA HOTLINE -- 717-884-VOTE (717-884-8386)
Leave a message with your location, what went wrong with the machine, and time of day it happened. Please add your name and callback number so we can reach you to learn more. We need your report so we can work to end these problems in future elections!
Learn more at www.VotePA.us