Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a bill that would have provided funding for counties to update voting machine technology with an intended goal of securing the integrity of election results has created the perfect example of an unfunded mandate.
In the wake of a settlement to a lawsuit filed by Green Party candidate Jill Stein after the 2016 election, Wolf called for the decertification of all voting machines in Pennsylvania with replacements that provide a paper trail to facilitate audits of all voting results.
Although Wolf called for decertification of all voting machines in February 2018, he has yet to issue a final order. The governor’s budget proposal in February called for the state to provide $15 million to help counties pay for the new machines.
State Senate Bill 48 would have allowed the state to borrow up to $90 million to cover as much as 60 percent of the costs counties would face for voting machine replacements, but the governor’s veto currently leaves counties with no state funding to help them pay for the voting equipment.
Senate Bill 48 appears to have been derailed by another provision in the legislation that would have eliminated straight-party voting as a single-button ballot option. “Senate Bill 48 makes changes to our elections that I do not believe strike the right balance to improve access to voters or security,” he said.
Wolf expressed concerns that removal of the straight-party voting option at the same time that new technology was being introduced to voters would increase waiting times and could discourage participation.
The prime sponsor of Senate Bill 48, State Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, blasted Wolf’s move, saying the governor caved to political pressure from national Democratic operatives. “In doing so, Governor Wolf has turned his back on our county commissioners from every county in the state.”
In a joint statement, Senate President Joe Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said that they have pursued elimination of straight-party voting because “we believe all races should be decided by individual choices, rather than group voting. Most other states, including liberal-leaning states, agree with the elimination of straight-party voting,” they said.
Pennsylvania is one of nine states that still have straight-party voting as a ballot option, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
With the voting machine mandate and funding issues now coming to an apparent standstill, we renew our call for the state to perform a comprehensive evaluation of voting machine systems in each county to determine the true need for equipment replacement in order to ensure the accuracy, validity and sanctity of the results.
Reports suggest an evaluation would find a number of counties that clearly need to replace technology to achieve these standards. But the review also may reveal that Snyder County, Montour County and 16 others where voters mark paper ballots actually do have an ultimate paper trail that hundreds of thousands of dollars in new electronic equipment would do little to improve.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.