County might combine election precincts

ERIC POOLE | Herald fileLauri Galentine, an employee in Mercer County’s Voter Registration and Elections Department, tries out an ES&S ExpressVote voting machine during a vendor demonstration in June.

In a span of four days, proposed funding to partially cover the cost of state-mandated voting machines went from dead on the table to having a faint heartbeat.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 48, which would have provided $90 million to the state’s 67 counties to help pay for new voting systems with a paper-trail backup. The machines must be in place by the May 2020 primary election.

The veto left Dan Vogler, chairman of the Lawrence County commissioners, disheartened. That, though was before word came yesterday morning the state is beginning the framework for a bond issue that will assist counties.

“I felt bad about the veto, but it appears the Wolf administration is looking for solutions,” Vogler said yesterday afternoon from his office. “I don’t agree with his veto, but I credit the administration for 0looking for a way to secure the funds.”

Commissioner Bob Del Signore expressed frustration over the governor’s move.

“It is amazing that they can’t pass a bill that everybody is wanting throughout the state for help on the cost of these machines,” Del Signore said. “Then they have to add things to a bill so it can’t get through a final test.

“They just can’t seem to get their act together. They know every county has been fussing about where the money is going to come from.”

According to a press release from the governor’s office issued yesterday morning, the commonwealth would provide funding up to $90 million to reimburse counties for 60 percent of their actual costs to replace voting systems.

The state hopes to work with the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority, which may issue bonds, and the Department of State would make grants available to counties.

There is also a potential incentive that, according to the press release, would allow counties that implement new voting systems by the 2020 primary to receive their full share of federal and state funds.

Lawrence County already has new machines in place, and is working to get the full cost, nearly $750,000, paid off through a mixture of federal, state and county money.

“Still withstanding,” Vogler said, “this is a partially funded mandate. The law requires that counties run elections, and that is not just true in Pennsylvania, but all states. The responsibility for running the elections runs with all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties.

“It was mandated that we had to find a new voting system because they indicated they were going to decertify the system we were using and most every county in the state was using. We complied with that. We looked at various voting systems. The ones we looked at were certified by the Department of State.”

Now, Vogler said, the county must come up with the remaining cost, which was estimated by Ed Allison, director of the county's elections office, at around $300,000.

“We did get a small allocation from the federal government to assist in the purchase of the machines,” Vogler said. “We’re not at a 40 percent position, but still above having to come up with funds to cover at least 30 percent of the cost.”

The entire system, according to Allison, cost the county $697,000 for just the equipment and software. With accessories, such as voting booths, ballot bags and printing, the cost soared another $100,000.

Speaking on the bond issue, Allison questioned why the measure is coming up now.

“If the governor came up with the proposal for the 60 percent using a bond issue, why didn’t we do this a year ago?” Allison said. “Other than playing with it like a political football, at this point the end does not justify the means.”

Vogler said the county has one funding source — property taxes — and the remaining cost of the system “will be borne by the taxpayers of the county.”

“There is an old saying that ‘something is better than nothing,’ ” Vogler said. “We will certainly take something. The state is mandating it, the state should pay for it in full. We are in a position where we would have to take what we get. We will be appreciative of what we receive.”

baddleman@ncnewsonline.com

Assistant Editor

Brent Addleman is the assistant editor at the New Castle News. Email him at BAddleman@ncnewsonline.com.

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