Voters asked for input on machine choices

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County is moving closer to purchasing paper-verified voting machines with a decision slated to be made on April 2 concerning what type to buy.

The county Board of Elections, at the suggestion of board Chairman Terry Tomassetti, agreed Monday to post online videos of two systems under consideration, thereby giving the public a chance to look at the options and offer input.

“This is something we’re going to have for a long time,” Tomassetti said.

Tomassetti is the only incumbent commissioner serving this year on the elections board, a seat he retained because of his decision against seeking reelection.

Because fellow commissioners Bruce Erb and Ted Beam Jr. are running for reelection, they named alternates Robert Scholl and Greg Michelone to serve in their seats this year.

It’s up to the elections board members to decide what system to buy, elections board solicitor Nathan Karn said Monday.

While county commissioners will sign a contract to buy the new voting system, Karn said the law puts the responsibility of making a decision in the hands of the county elections board.

The cost of the pending purchase currently hovers around $1 million when combining the original purchase price followed by four years of fees for licensing, warranty and maintenance. The county has money set aside in the 2017 bond issue to cover the cost.

But a price on the new voting system isn’t yet firm.

Companies worked through the state’s Cooperative Purchasing Program to set prices on voting equipment that county leaders said could be lowered but not increased.

Besides price, election board members are also interested in how easy the system is to use, the available support when repairs are needed and ongoing expenses.

Blair County leaders last year hosted a demonstration of voting systems at the Blair County Convention Center, with equipment displayed by Dominion Voting of Toronto, Election Systems of Software of Omaha, Neb., and Unisyn Voting Solutions, based in California.

All three companies have acquired certifications to meet federal and state rules so that governmental consumers like Blair and other counties can have voter-verified paper balloting systems in place before the 2020 presidential elections. The edict behind the requirement surfaced in response to accusations that voting systems without paper trails are subject to being hacked.

Sarah Seymour, county elections director, told the elections board members Monday that companies are naming two to three months for production and delivery of election equipment.

But county leaders agreed that time could increase as more governments place orders for new equipment. Tomassetti said he didn’t want to delay the selection too long, but proposed an announcement of the posted videos as soon as they’re available for public viewing.

Only videos from Dominion and ESS are to be posted because Unisyn has not provided a comparable version, county leaders said.

The elections board settled on reconvening to make a decision at 9 a.m. April 2 in Room 2B at the courthouse. Because commissioners meet in the same location on the same day at 10 a.m., commissioners will be in a position to vote that day on entering into a contract.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.