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* CORRECTION: This story was corrected after publication.
With the presidential election of 2020 looming, Allegheny County officials are testing new kinds of voting machines.
The board of elections will hold a public meeting from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday (June 7) in the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse, downtown Pittsburgh, to discuss the options and hear from three experts regarding election security.
On Wednesday at CCAC South Campus in West Mifflin, residents got a chance to try different kinds of voting technology for themselves. The machines being demonstrated could be broken down into three basic methods: entirely paper ballots, entirely automated ballots, and hybrid ballots that combine paper and electronic systems.
Boston, Mass., based ClearBallot was the only vendor showing exclusively paper ballot technology at South Campus.
“Paper ballots are the most cost-effective method of voting,” said ClearBallot representative Russ Dawson. “You only need one scanner per location and can have even hundreds of people voting at a time with only one machine. (It) avoids a lot of expensive hardware.”
ClearBallot also put a heavy emphasis on paper ballots’ effectiveness at preventing voter disenfranchisement, as well as providing additional means of recounting and verifying votes.
Dawson said ballot scanners also are completely independent of one another and not connected to any network, so they cannot be hacked into remotely.
The paper ballots are "bubble sheets," like those used by standardized tests. A voter marks the bubbles and inserts it into a scanning machine, which both tallies the votes and saves a PDF of every ballot it receives.
Also demonstrated was the ExpressVote XL* voting system, sold by Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb.
Similar to the systems Allegheny County currently uses, with ExpressVote XL the voter selects their desired candidates on a touchscreen. Katina Granger, a spokeswoman for ES&S, said that although voters use a touch screen, the ExpressVote XL system does produce an independent, voter-verifiable paper record.*
Two other vendors being evaluated by county officials are Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas, and Dominion Voting Systems, a Canadian company. Along with ES&S, Hart and Dominion offer hybrid systems.
“Our audio (and) touch voting machines allow the visually impaired to vote independently,” said Stephen Saenz, a representative for Hart. “Tactile controls and extensive different settings and options make our machines fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The hybrid systems either have the voter make their selections on a screen and print out a paper copy of the ballot that can be checked later; or they use a paper ballot that’s filled out physically before it's put into the voting machine, where votes can be confirmed on the screen.
Computer security experts have criticized voting machines currently used in the United States, which they have said often run on outdated operating systems, or lack effective protection against hacking.
Federal authorities said Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states during 2016’s presidential election. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is urging all 67 counties in the state to upgrade their electronic voting machines.
At Friday's meeting, the Allegheny County Board of Elections wil hear testimony from David Voye, manager of the county's Elections Division, who will provide an update on the search committee process regarding voting machine vendors and options.
Also scheduled to testify are Marian K. Schneider, president of the Verified Voting Foundation; Christopher Deluzio, counsel for the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University; and S. Candice Hoke, a professor of law at the Cleveland-Marshall School of Law at Cleveland State University.
“We want to make certain that the selection of a new voting system is a transparent, inclusive process,” said Tom Baker, chair of the Board of Elections Chairman and a member of county council, in a prepared statement.
“Our goal with Friday’s meeting is to have some of the top thought leaders in this region sharing with us and the public their thoughts on the process and what we should be considering when making this important decision,” he said.
Additional demonstration sessions are planned for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (June 8) at Kane Community Living Center in Glen-Hazel; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. June 11 at CCAC Allegheny Campus in Pittsburgh; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. June 12 at Kane Glen-Hazel.
* CORRECTION: This story was corrected on June 7, 2019, to note that ES&S' system is called ExpressVote XL, and that it does produce a paper ballot. We apologize for the error.
Griffin Gordon is a resident of Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood and attends Yale University in New Haven, Conn. This is his first story for Tube City Almanac. Editor Jason Togyer contributed to this story.
Originally published June 06, 2019.