Centre County lets residents, poll workers check out new voting machines

Chris Morelli/The Express Centre County commissioners Mark Higgins, left, and Michael Pipe, right, answer questions during Monday night’s voting machine Town Hall at CPI.

PLEASANT GAP – A crowd of approximately 100 Centre County residents turned out on Monday night for a Town Hall meeting to discuss new voting machines.

The Centre County Commissioners – Steve Dershem, Mark Higgins and Michael Pipe – hosted the event, which was held at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology.

Pipe was pleased with the turnout.

“It’s good to see engaged people. We’re seeing many people who work those 16-hour days on Election Day,” Pipe said. “We have poll workers here and people who are just interested in the election process. They want to see what happens with their vote, they care about voting and they want to see what the future holds.”

Representatives from Unisyn Voting Solutions, ESS Systems and Solutions and Dominion Voting were on hand to show off their machines and answer any questions poll workers and voters may have had. While the machines were different as far as display is concerned, the functionality of each was quite similar. Each produced a paper ballot which was then fed into a counter.

Centre County poll workers and residents check out a new touch-screen voting machine at Monday night's Town Hall meeting at CPI.

State College resident Chris Younken found out about the event just 20 minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

“I hadn’t heard about it until 20 minutes ago, but I’m wondering why this didn’t happen 20 years ago. I thought, ‘I gotta come here. It’s so important,'” Younken said. “The last time I voted, I asked ‘how do we know that it recorded my vote? How do I get confirmation?’ I know people say it’s expensive to get new machines. What’s more expensive is to not have our votes counted.”

All 67 counties in Pennsylvania will have to replace their voting machines in the near future. In April, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration told Pennsylvania’s counties that he wants them to replace their electronic voting systems with machines that have a verifiable paper trail by the end of 2019.

It is estimated that the change in voting machines will cost the Commonwealth approximately $125 million.

Commissioner Steve Dershem knows that the change is inevitable, so Monday night’s event was extremely important.

Centre County resident Chris Younken examines the voting machine literature at CPI on Monday night.

“I think it’s important for people to look at what this technology is. It’s not totally dis-similar to what we have currently in that there’s still the implementation of a paper ballot,” Dershem said. “We are required by 2020 to have these systems engaged and ready to go, so we are trying to get a jump on that.”

For approximately 30 minutes, people got a first-hand look at the machines before the commissioners took questions from the audience.

One of those in attendance was Liz Kishbaugh of Boalsburg. She recently moved into Centre County, so she wanted to learn all she could about the changing election process.

“I want to be involved and I want to know what’s going on with my community. Voting is very important,” Kishbaugh said.

She moved into Centre County from Mifflin County in October.

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS A representative from Unisyn Voting System explains a new voting machine during a Town Hall meeting at CPI in Pleasant Gap.

“I was involved in Mifflin County politically and now I’m looking to be as involved as possible here,” she said.

Commissioner Mark Higgins was thrilled with the turnout. He was happy to see Centre County residents “kicking the tires” on the new machines.

“Great turnout,” Higgins said. “I want to compliment our citizens and especially our election workers. We definitely wanted them to test the equipment, ask a lot of questions and give us some feedback.”