E-Slate to be retired after election

Thirteen years probably isn’t long enough to make anyone nostalgic about a voting system, so there isn’t likely to be much angst with today’s election being the last for Blair County’s e-Slate machines — which will be replaced in November by paper ballots with ovals to blacken with pencils.

It’s a change mandated by the state to ensure there’s verifiable physical evidence of vote counts, inspired by ballot-security concerns after the 2016 presidential election.

“(The e-Slate) has worked well for us,” said Election Board Chairman Terry Tomassetti. “It’s clear most people prefer a paper trail.”

The e-Slate system was also coming to the end of its useful life, Tomassetti said.

After this year, the county wouldn’t have been able to obtain replacement parts, Election Director Sarah Seymour has said.

In November, voters will fill in paper ballots and place them in hoppers, after which they’ll be counted electronically.

Voters with disabilities will be able to fill in paper ballots electronically, although they’ll also take those ballots and place them in hoppers for electronic counting.

Paper verification will come into play when there are recounts, Tomassetti said.

During recounts, the existence of actual paper ballots that can be tallied by hand will be reassuring, especially for those who think of a computer recount as “magic,” Tomassetti said.

Tomassetti’s main reservation about the new system is its handling of write-in votes.

Under e-Slate, voters dialed up letters one-by-one to name write-in candidates, so while there are misspellings of candidate names, there’s no doubt about the letters themselves, Tomassetti said.

Under the new system, they’ll jot down the names of write-in candidates, creating the possibility that individual letters may be illegible, Tomassetti said.

While the new paper-trail system will alleviate concerns about electronic manipulation of election results, it’s replacing a system touted as a protection against a different security concern — voter privacy: the guarantee that no one else can tell for whom one casts a ballot, without which voter intimidation becomes a threat.

The new machines are expected at the end of June, Seymour said.

Despite their use of paper, poll workers will not have more labor and results should be available about as quickly as with the current system, Seymour said.

Turnout today may be a little higher than usual, given widespread interest in the commissioners and school board races, as indicated by a slightly higher than normal absentee ballot count, Seymour said.

Also, there are two open spots on the state Superior Court, Pennsylvania’s mid-level appellate court, which handles civil and criminal appeals from county courts.

The Democrats are Philadelphia Judge Daniel McCaffery and lawyers Amanda Green-Hawkins, of Pittsburgh, and Beth Tarasi, of suburban Pittsburgh.

The Republicans are Cumberland County Judge Christylee Peck, Chester County prosecutor Megan King and Rebecca Warren, the former Montour County district attorney.