Commit to voting machines

Gov. Tom Wolf is opting for “Plan B” to help counties pay 60 percent of their costs tied to acquiring new voting machines with voter-verifiable paper systems.

It’s unfortunate that the General Assembly and governor haven’t been able to achieve an accord through the preferable legislative process, but the voting-machines funding situation is another example of progress stymied by too many issues being lumped into one bill.

In this case, voting-machine funding was included in legislation that would have eliminated straight-party voting and extend the absentee ballot deadline.

Wolf opposes ending straight-party voting and vetoed the bill, even though helping counties pay for new voting machines is a big priority for him. Presumably, extending the absentee ballot deadline is an issue upon which the Legislature and governor agree.

Now, for better or worse, in the aftermath of the veto, Wolf has announced a plan to proceed with the voting-machines funding in question by borrowing up to $90 million — a move that will require approval from the board of a state economic development financing agency, the vehicle through which the governor is seeking to pursue the loan.

Understandably, legislative Republicans, who lumped the three issues into one bill, presumably at least in part to try to pressure Wolf into coming aboard regarding their straight-party-voting opposition, now are questioning whether Wolf has the legal authority to embark on the borrowing he is proposing.

For that authority to be verified is right.

However, equally important is that Pennsylvania’s voting technology be capable of meeting the needs of the times, even if it costs a bit more to achieve peace of mind regarding accuracy.

Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election was a wake-up call thwarting past thinking that a paper trail wasn’t needed for verification purposes.

As a July 10 Mirror article reminded readers, Wolf began pressing counties last year to replace their voting machines before 2020 after a warning from federal authorities that the Keystone State and at least 20 others were targeted by Russian hackers leading up to the 2016 balloting.

Wolf has acknowledged legislative approval for the funding would be preferable, but he indicated his borrowing proposal is at least a source of confidence for counties that they will be spared the full burden of the machines’ purchase, which is expected to be upward of $100 million.

The state currently has about 25,000 voting machines.

Wolf rightly fears that if new voting machines aren’t in place for November 2020, Pennsylvania could be the only state — and the only presidential battleground state — without voter-verifiable paper systems operable.

Even if the majority of Keystone State voters don’t really care whether the proposed voting machines are in operation next year, Pennsylvania leaders should, first and foremost, be committed to the principle of accuracy regarding this important civic function and responsibility.

Anything less is unacceptable.

The new voting machines being proposed would have enhanced anti-hacking security, produce a paper record that would allow a voter to double-check how his or her vote is recorded and allow election officials to audit election results.

Every right-thinking public servant should be committed to those capabilities, without the need for a Plan B.

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