ASTON — It was tough to find a parking space Thursday night at the township Community Center.
And it wasn't because they were handing out anything for free, or that some celebrity had sauntered into town. The reason for the excitement? Voting machines.
In April 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of State notified counties that they must select a voting system with a voter-verified paper record no later than the end of this year for initial use in the primary of 2020. On Thursday, Delaware County Council and the county Board of Elections held an expo allowing community members to see, touch and feel the systems from the five certified companies.
"We just really wanted to hear what our folks had to say," said Laureen Hagan, chief clerk of Delaware County's Bureau of Elections. "We're just asking them to look at the (systems) and give us their feedback. No matter what they use, it's going to be different than what we have now. We're just really trying to get a sense of what people like, what fits, what are the good parts, the bad parts."
Currently, Delaware County deploys 850 machines to collect votes from 428 precincts.
On Thursday, representatives from Clear Ballot, Dominion Voting, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), HART Intercivic and Unisyn brought their devices to Aston for three demonstrations. In the morning, county council and elections officials were introduced to the systems, followed by a few dozen poll workers and representatives from the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Delaware County Literacy Council.
In the evening, the doors were open to the general public, and members took advantage of the opportunity to see what they may be facing come April 2020.
All the machines on hand Thursday had received both state certification and approval by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
"You have to applaud Delaware County for holding the expo because not every county has done that," Kevin Skoglund of Citizens for Better Elections, said. "And, the turnout, you can see – people care, people care.'
His non-partisan organization, Citizens for Better Elections, has been advocating for the past two years for systems with paper ballots as a way to ensure accurate, viable and secure elections.
"The old machines were super old," he said. "Technology doesn't last forever so it's time to replace them. The Danaher machines were invented before Microsoft Windows even existed, that's how old they are. They predate the very first version of Microsoft Windows."
Danaher is a version of the direct-recording electronic machines used in Delaware County.
In addition, he said the paper ballot machines provide a verification backup.
"Before, you had to trust that the counts were correct. You couldn't prove it," Skoglund said. "Now, you can prove it. It's already paying off. It's paying dividends."
He shared a recent case.
In the recent primary, voters in Hatboro were considering a tax to support its library. Preliminary results presented a narrow victory of 14 votes. When the votes were verified through the paper ballots, the victory remained intact – but by hundreds.
Skoglund explained the difference in perception for an issue where the vote passes by a small amount versus landslide support.
Delaware County officials anticipate making their selection by the end of the summer or in the early fall, but were seeking input from election officials and community members about the different models available.
Skoglund said there's a basic decision Delaware County officials will have to make.
He said the county will have to choose between hand-marked paper ballots with a touch-screen ballot marking device for voters who want or need it for accessibility or to solely have touch screens for all voters.
Skoglund said touch-screens alone are twice as expensive. For example, he said the 32-inch ES&S machine is approximately $8,500 each while the others are about $4,000 apiece.
With hand-marked ballots, he added, privacy booths can be set up and up to 10 voters can cast their choices at a time.
County Councilman Brian Zidek said he received 50 postcards from people wanting hand-marked paper ballots so providing a chance for the public to be a part of the selection process was integral.
"This is all about making sure that people can vote effectively and that it is safe," he said. "My mind is open and I'm willing to listen to anybody."
Zidek said council was anticipating receiving a small amount of federal funds for the purchase of these machines and more significant funding from the state.
State Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, said that is a topic of discussion in Harrisburg at the moment.
"That's a debate we're having right now," he said. "The governor issued the order – get new machines by 2020 – without any funding. We're in the budget process now. We'll go from there."
After a decision is made, county officials expect to have significant education for the 1,700 poll workers, as well as the general public.
"We want as many of them to come, learn the systems and we'll give them the opportunity," Hagan said.
She added that it would be similar to when the DREs were introduced in 2006 and training sessions were presented in libraries, senior citizens and malls.
This time, county officials said they're expecting to have an instructional video on the county website for those unable to attend one of the sessions.
Expo participants were asked to fill out a survey of the machines in the community center so that information could be considered as officials select the model to be used here.
"In the end, we can take a look at that and see what people really felt was the best machine for Delaware County from a resident's viewpoint," county council Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone said.
She also explained other issues to be weighed in the decision-making process.
"We'll look at cost, ease of use, the storage, the maintenance and the ongoing ability to maintain the systems," she said.
Public comment was mixed on the various different machines Thursday, but one issue was consistent – many were grateful to have the chance to see the machines and ask questions about them prior to the county purchasing one.
"I think it's great that they're having the expo," county resident Beth Alois said. "They're giving the average voter and the people who work in the polls an opportunity to see what the options are."
She said she liked the idea of a paper ballot to a certain extent as some people feel more secure. However, she voiced concern about stuffed ballot boxes.
Chester Judge of Election Delores Shelton attended with fellow Judge of Election Susan Dennis.
"We think that having this demonstration is excellent because it gives you a chance to look around and see different machines," she said. "Now, I get a chance to ask a whole lot of questions that in my mind could be a problem."
For her, Shelton said she wanted to learn about where the different machines had been used to see if there were accompanying issues in those locations.
Advocating for the senior citizens in her precinct, Dennis said, "I'm just trying to figure for them what would be best."
Both Shelton and Dennis expressed concerns about multiple lines forming in the process – one to fill out the ballot, then potentially another to have it scanned. They explained that if the lines are long, it will discourage people from voting.
Media pollworker James "Ziggy" Ziegelhoffer said from his perspective, he wanted to see what's the best system to get voters in and out.
"They're all similar in the process," he said. "It's what ultimately is easiest for the overall voting population."
The vendors were also grateful to be there for the public.
"It's important for us to be here to make sure that all the various groups that are here – poll workers, voters, the disability community – they all have a chance to touch and feel this equipment because it's what they're going to use to exercise their right to vote for the next decade or more and so we want to make sure that they have as much input as possible," Daniel Chalupsky, vice president of Unisyn said. "More importantly, we want people to have confidence in whichever system the county chooses."