MEDIA — Delaware County sought input from the community regarding the selection of paper ballot voting machines at a public forum Tuesday.
In June, some 300 to 400 people packed the Aston Township Community Center for an opportunity to see and try out the models the county is considering purchasing. Representatives from each of the voting machine companies were also available for questions.
In April 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of State notified counties that they must select a voting system with a voter-verified paper record by the end of this year for initial use in the primary of 2020.
On Tuesday, the County Board of Elections and Delaware County Council held the discussion session in the county council meeting room to listen to viewpoints from the community.
The companies being considered by Delaware County include Clear Ballot, Dominion Voting, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), HART Intercivic and Unisyn. All have received both state certification and approval by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. And, there are basically two different systems — one with hand-marked paper ballots and another that is an electronic ballot that creates a printout.
One characteristic that was repeated often among the dozens who spoke Tuesday was simplicity.
"We need something simple," Delores Shelton of Chester said. "We need a simple process because we want everybody to vote. We want every vote to count."
Marita Green, voter services chair of the League of Women Voters of Delaware County, agreed.
"We underscore the need for simple, reliable machines that use paper-verified ballots that allow the voters the ability to confirm their choices," she said. "Simplicity is valued to provide voter confidence and (in) understanding the process.
"We need a system approved by Mr. Rogers," she said, "rather than the Wizard of Oz, one that values voters as good, responsible neighbors rather than individuals who need to be awed by whistles and bells behind closed curtains."
Laureen Hagan, chief clerk of the Delaware County Election Bureau, gave a historical synopsis.
In 2002, the federal government passed the Help America Vote Act that required voting jurisdictions to provide voting systems for those with disabilities by the 2006 primary. Hagan explained that's when Delaware County selected the Danaher 1242 voting machines.
Then, the Department of State issued their directive that all counties have until Dec. 31 to pick a voting system that provides a voter-verified paper record.
She said that Delaware County applied and was approved to receive its $660,615.70 share of $14 million from mostly federal funds being dispersed across the state. County council also has allocated $7 million for the purchase of a new system. The county deploys 850 machines to collect votes from 428 precincts.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced he will issue a bond up to $90 million, without legislative approval, to assist counties with purchasing a new voting system with a paper trail. Last year, he began directing counties to replace their voting machines after federal authorities warned Pennsylvania and other states that Russian hackers targeted then during the 2016's presidential election.
Hagan explained that county election staff will review the transcripts from Tuesday's meeting, follow up questions that surfaced with the vendors and visit Philadelphia, Chester and Montgomery counties to see what systems they've used and what their experiences have been.
Hagan said her office will compile a systems analysis to present to the Board of Elections, who in collaboration with county council, will make a selection based on the needs of the voters, poll workers and the county.
Delaware County officials plan to have a contract in place with a vendor by the last quarter of 2019 for use in the 2020 primary.
County Councilman Kevin Madden had the packed council room raise their hands to show who favored hand-marked ballots or exclusively ballot-marking devices. A visual look at the hands raised showed favor for both systems.
"Regardless of what we pick collectively, we're not going to satisfy everyone," he said. "I think we have to acknowledge that. But what I think is important is that we make the process ... one that involves the public input, that we deliberate in a public forum as to why we choose one device over another and that it takes into account everything that we care about."
He said those things were ease of use, intuitiveness, security, a speedy voting process, cost and trust in the process.
Fellow Councilman Michael Culp recalled Shelton's cry for higher pay and more assistance for the poll workers in her cry that brought the crowd to loud applause, "More help, more help, more pay, more pay."
"I think the one thing I'm going to take away from this is that everyone is underpaid," he said to the crowd's chuckles. "I know it's 14-hour days, dealing with people. I do appreciate and hear you."
One of the speakers, Bob Casey of Bethel, highlighted the meaning behind the selection of the new machines.
"As an honorably discharged Vietnam veteran of two trips, there's nothing more important than voting," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.