LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
In order to better inform citizens of Lehigh County on current issues, the League of Women Voters of Lehigh County focused on the new voting machines in Lehigh County for its September Hot Topis Luncheon. Speakers Timothy A. Benyo, chief clerk to the Lehigh County Elections Board, and Terri Harkins, deputy chief clerk, provided a clear and enlightening explanation of the new voting process.
Because Pennsylvania is considered a “swing state” in national elections, it is a potential target for those wishing to interfere in the election process. To promote election security, Governor Tom Wolf created a blue-ribbon commission to address the issue of election security. One finding of the commission was most areas of the state were using outdated voting machines. Therefore, Wolf ordered all counties to have new, more secure voting machines by 2020. The Lehigh County Commissioners made this project a priority.
Lehigh County will have the machines available for the November election. There will be different machines for Berks and Northampton counties.
Benyo and Harkins said the voter will check in as in the past. However, instead of being given a card that allows him to cast his vote electronically, the voter will receive a paper ballot. Ballots are numbered so the number of signed-in voters may be checked against the number of ballots distributed. A poll worker will remove the number on the ballot before handing it to the voter. From the moment the number is removed, only the voter will handle the ballot and it will contain no voter identifying information.
Ballots will be filled out in the voting booth. After filling in choices, the voter will place the ballot in a scanner which records the vote and drops the ballot into a bag in a collection bin enclosed within the machine. Although the machine stores votes on a memory stick, it has no Internet capabilities.
At the end of the voting session, the paper ballots will be sealed in the machine’s collection bag and transported, with the memory stick, to the vote tabulation site. The paper ballots remain sealed unless a recount is required. All votes are retained for five years.
A question and answer session followed the presentation and vote scanner demonstration. In response to a concern about the necessity of completely filling in the oval indicating a voter’s choice, Harkins explained any mark within the oval will count. Should a voter make a mistake, the spoiled ballot should be returned to a poll worker and a new ballot will be issued. In addition, the machine will accurately scan folded ballots.
Benyo addressed the issue of write-in candidates. The ballot has an area designated for write-in votes, but stickers may not be used. Also, a ballot marking device is available for anyone who is unable to physically mark a paper ballot.
When asked if the use of the new scanners will shorten the time for tabulating the final vote count, Benyo said, “[We are] hoping the results will be [completed] in a similar time [frame].” However, a bit longer time to count the votes is a small price to pay in exchange for added election security and increased voter confidence.
The League of Women Voters will host a series of “Hot Topics Luncheons” on the second Tuesday of the month through April 2020 at the Superior Restaurant in Emmaus.