Pennsylvania warns county over defying voting machine edict

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania county is being told it would lose out on millions of dollars in aid and almost certainly be sued by the state if it refuses to take action to buy new voting machines before Dec. 31, county officials said Monday.

Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries said that was the message delivered to him during a meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf’s top elections officials last week, a message strong enough to change his mind.

“Certainly the message from the state has been received loud and clear,” Pries said.

In addition to the threat of a state lawsuit, Dauphin County would be unable to share in state and federal aid to help with a purchase that could exceed $5 million, county officials said. That aid could account for roughly 70% of each county’s tab.

As a result, Pries said he has decided to vote to buy new voting machines, seeing it as the best option for the county’s residents and taxpayers. It is just a question of settling on which machine to buy, he said.

A spokeswoman for Wolf’s Department of State declined comment Monday. Dauphin County’s other two commissioners have yet to meet with Department of State officials.

Dauphin County signaled last month that it could become the only county to defy Wolf’s insistence that counties buy new voting systems as a security measure in 2020’s election, when Pennsylvania is expected to be a premier presidential battleground.

Pries and Dauphin County’s other Republican commissioner had said they were comfortable with the county’s old machines, particularly after hearing about paper jams, vote-counting malfunctions, long lines and other problems in other counties that debuted new machines in last month’s election.

The state Republican Party has said it is looking into those problems, although Wolf’s Department of State said the majority of the state saw only isolated issues.

Wolf, a Democrat, began pressing counties last year to get new voting machines that have an auditable paper backup, and told them that he will decertify their old voting systems before the 2020 primary.

The total tab could be well above $100 million.

That was after federal authorities warned Pennsylvania and other states that Russian hackers targeted them during 2016’s election.

At the time, Pennsylvania was one of 13 states where some or all voters used machines that store votes electronically without printed ballots or another paper-based backup that allows a voter to double-check how their vote was recorded.

In their meeting, Pries said Department of State officials also told him that Dauphin County could face lawsuits from other parties, including former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and several supporters.

That group’s lawsuit accused Pennsylvania of violating the constitutional rights of voters in 2016’s presidential election because its voting machines were susceptible to hacking and barriers to a recount were pervasive.

Wolf’s administration settled the lawsuit, in part, by pledging that counties would use paper ballot-based voting machines in 2020’s elections.

However, the plaintiffs returned to court last month to challenge Pennsylvania’s certification of a voting machine newly purchased by Philadelphia and at least two other counties in the state.