Imagine depending on a 12-year-old cellphone or a 15-year-old computer for your personal or business needs. No one would fault you for seeking to replace that outdated equipment with newer, technologically superior models.
Many counties in the commonwealth own voting systems that old or even older.
Fortunately, voting machines remain reliable longer than cellphones and laptops. Also, Pennsylvania employs a host of measures – such as comprehensive monitoring and network isolation – to maintain their security.
With the cooperation of law enforcement and cybersecurity partners, we know that our elections will be run in a safe, secure way this year. But as our voting machines approach the end of their usable life, we must think and plan ahead now.
We are constantly reminded that worldwide cybersecurity threats are growing and hackers have become increasingly sophisticated. Modernizing Pennsylvania’s election infrastructure is the responsible thing to do so our citizens can feel confident that their votes are accurately and securely recorded.
That’s why the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections in the commonwealth, informed counties last week that they need to have voter-verifiable paper record voting systems selected no later than Dec. 31, 2019, and preferably in place by the November 2019 general election.
A paper ballot, whether marked by hand or marked with assistive technology, will allow for a more complete audit of results. It will also provide a more robust fail-safe against voting-machine malfunction, and it will give voters a buffer against the rhetoric that their votes can be “rigged.”
The department recognizes the high cost of purchasing new voting systems that meet the latest standards of security, auditability, accessibility, and resiliency. The recent announcement that the commonwealth will receive nearly $14 million in federal funding to assist counties with replacement of their voting equipment was most welcome. That funding is a good start but not enough to replace approximately 24,000 voting machines.
The Wolf administration is committed to working with the counties and the legislature to help fund new voting systems including, but not limited to, the consideration of future-year cost-sharing arrangements that could use local, state, and federal dollars. We are also working to identify every source of financing available that can help support this effort, including lease agreements, grant opportunities, loans, state and local appropriations, and other options.
We encourage voters to voice their support with their congressional representatives, their state legislators, and their county commissioners. These are the people who set spending priorities and who need to know that voters see the need for modern election equipment.
As the counties begin their planning and evaluation process, they will have their choice of voting systems that have been certified. One system has just completed certification by the federal Election Assistance Commission and the department and several others are expected to follow in the summer and fall. The department will provide extensive support and guidance to county Boards of Elections to ensure a smooth transition to the new systems.
On April 26, the department will host a voting-system demonstration forum at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. This is an opportunity for legislators and their staff, county officials, the public, and media to learn what the next generation of voting systems offers. I encourage you to join us, observe overviews of the systems, and ask questions.
New voting machines can help ensure that Pennsylvanians will continue to have confidence in the security and integrity of their elections. The time has come for Pennsylvania to invest in modernizing our election systems.
Making the move to more easily auditable voting equipment protected with state-of-the-art security is crucial to preserving our democracy and the free and fair elections that are its underpinning.
Robert Torres is Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state.