Centre County learns the ropes with new voting machines

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS With new voting machines in hand, Centre County has begun training its employees and election officials for Election Day in May. From left, election coordinator Jodi Nedd, Election Systems and Software representative Drew Ayers and director of Elections and Voter Registration Joyce McKinley.

By CHRIS MORELLI

cmorelli@lockhaven.com

BELLEFONTE — Centre County’s 200 voting machines were recently delivered to the Willowbank Building, unpacked and set up.

Now, training begins.

“Right next door, there’s a training going on for our staff,” commissioner Michael Pipe said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Basically, last week and this week, a full-blown training of the machines.”

Representatives from Election Systems and Software (ES&S) are on hand to facilitate the training.

“(Our staff) will be able to walk out of there knowing where every screw and key is,” Pipe said with a laugh. “They’re going to have a really intimate view of the machines.”

Pipe said that all the machines have been unpacked and assembled.

“I think the whole room has been unpacked and ready to be deployed in a few weeks,” Pipe said.

The 200 machines came with a price tag of $1,192,571. That price breaks down like this: $860,571 for the equipment and $332,000 for a five-year hardware and software maintenance agreement, as well as set-up and training. Gov. Tom Wolf earmarked $75 million in his budget for the new machines statewide. However, that $75 million will be paid over the course of five years.

Pipe said that he’s unsure of how much of the $75 million Centre County will receive.

“On the table is $75 million over five years. I think anybody – from the county’s perspective – would be that we’d like to have that all in one year, but we’ll be patient and see. If they meet in the middle, we’ll go from there. But we certainly advocate for the full $75 million,” Pipe said.

Pipe said the governor’s office has been mum when it comes to how – and when – the $75 million will be distributed.

“We always operate under the assumption that if there is nothing coming out of Harrisburg about the budget that it’s good news. It means that negotiations are happening and being effective,” he said.

The change in voting machines was necessitated last year. At the time, the Pennsylvania Department of State, on recommendation from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, required that existing voting machines across the state be replaced by the end of 2019.

The new voting systems are required to be paper-based and not connected to the Internet. Centre County’s existing machines already meet those criteria.

However, Wolf has de-certified machines throughout the state.

Centre County residents will get their first look at the new machines during the primary on Tuesday, May 21.

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