State pushes counties to replace voting machines
Senior affordable housing coming to Lock Haven
By SARAH PAEZ
LOCK HAVEN — A new Gov. Tom Wolf administration mandate ordering Pennsylvania counties to replace their voting machines with ones that leave a paper trail by the end of 2019 may burden Clinton County financially, say county commissioners.
Counties estimate that replacing the machines statewide will cost $125 million. But most do not have the funds to replace all of their voting machines.
Congress recently appropriated $356 million for election security, and Pennsylvania will receive $13.5 million of those funds. With a 5 percent state match, the total voting machine funding amount for Pennsylvania will come to $14.1 million.
Commissioners said each county would receive an amount from the state based on population. Clinton County, therefore, would receive about $41,000.
But with the cost of each new voting machine at around $5,400, Clinton County would have to spend almost half a million dollars to replace its 85 voting machines.
Back in 2006, Chief Clerk Jann Meyers said there was over $100 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds for the entire state to use. Only about $70 million of that was for voting machines.
Most Pennsylvania voting machines do not leave paper trails, meaning they store votes electronically without printing out ballots or paper-based backups to check vote totals.
Following the federal government’s announcement in September that Pennsylvania was one of 13 states targeted by hackers in the 2016 presidential election, many counties, including Clinton, have talked about the efficacy of voting machines. An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, though, found no evidence that vote tallies and registration databases in Pennsylvania were changed in that election.
In February, the Wolf administration announced that counties wanting to replace their voting machines should replace them with ones that leave a paper trail, in order to safeguard against hacking.
Following Gov. Wolf’s most recent announcement, Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres’ department opened up bids for companies to provide new voting systems that comply with the state’s new regulations.
“This is not, you get a receipt (like in the grocery store), this is only an internal copy in the machine,” said Commissioner Jeff Snyder, explaining that the “paper trails” would develop inside the voting machines.
The state government wants counties to secure a contract for new voting machines by Dec. 31, 2019, with hopes for implementation by the May 2020 primary. Wolf’s administration would not be able to penalize counties for not being able to afford new voting machines, but they said they would de-certify the older machines once the new machines are in place.
Commissioners reported that the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) is working with the state to secure more funding for new voting machines.
In response to the high cost of new voting machines, Commissioner Paul Conklin suggested the county think about decreasing the number of polling places to start saving money during election season.
The law states that each municipality in the county must have at least one polling place; the exceptions are the City of Lock Haven, which has five precincts, and Pine Creek Township, which has two.
Conklin said that the cost of paying poll workers is pretty high, considering that some workers get hours of down time while people are at work. He argued that the county could save money hiring less people if some precincts were consolidated.
The City of Lock Haven has five wards; therefore, each ward has its own polling place.
As for the voting machine debacle, Snyder said, “We’ll wait and see how it unfolds.”
Soon, Clinton County will have 32 units of affordable senior housing, located in what is now an undeveloped lot in Flemington Borough. The lot is adjacent to a property along Young Ave. near a wooded, natural site.
Jeff Rich, of the Clinton County Housing Authority, said 28 of the units will be one-bedroom apartments renting for $550 a month and four will be two-bedroom apartments renting for $660 a month. Four units will be fully Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible.
Aimed at serving those whose income levels are higher than the threshold for public housing, Rich said the apartments would accept the application of an elderly person receiving social security payments and living off a small pension.
The project’s total cost will be around $8 million, but $7.5 million of that is coming from Jersey Shore State Bank and Woodlands Bank, both of which are attracted by the tax credits they would receive by taking on the project.
The county will contribute $200,000 in Community Development Block Grants and Act 137 funds (fees collected on deed transfers), while the CCHA will contribute $122,000.
Snyder said the project would not have been possible without the collaboration of many community members and organizations, including the Economic Partnership, CCHA, SEDA Council of Governments, State Rep. Mike Hanna and U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson.
“I’m just really relieved that we’re gonna get it,” he said.
With the new county bus system, Rich said residents of the development would have easy access to grocery stores, pharmacies and other amenities.
Rich said the timeline for the project would be short, with construction beginning either in late summer or early fall 2018 and ending a year and a half later.
“It is a milestone achievement,” said Commissioner Pete Smeltz.