Pennsylvania's primary election day is May 21, and counties across the state are preparing to buy new voting machines. The state ordered counties to buy the new machines to prevent hacking, but some state lawmakers are questioning the need for this massive expenditure.
Target 11 investigator Rick Earle looked into both sides of the debate.
Beaver County Commissioner Dan Camp said the current voting machines have worked just fine for them, but because of the state mandate, they're being forced to replace them. They've decided to go with paper ballots and scanners at a cost of $1.2 million in time for the general election in November. Camp explained how those will work.
"After you're done marking it, on the way out the door, it's your responsibility to put it into the scanner, which will tally your vote," he said.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said this is what needs to happen to keep elections functioning correctly.
"That's the safest and most secure way," said DePasquale. "I know it sounds like we are going back in time, but there's no way to hack hand-marked paper ballots."
All of the new voting machines will also provide a paper backup, something current machines don't have.
Former U.S. Attorney David Hickton is now the director of the Pitt Cyber Law Institute. He commissioned a study of voting machines in Pennsylvania and said both sides of the aisle accept that the risk of voter hacking is very real.
"These machines are absolutely hackable," Hickton said. "They were once a reform, and now time has moved on, and now they are very vulnerable."
Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of State ordered counties to have new machines with paper backups in place by the 2020 presidential election. Now, some Republican lawmakers are questioning that decision. The state Senate recently passed a bill that stops the process and creates a bipartisan commission to study the need.
"We all want to make sure there's integrity in the election process, but we don't need to fix a problem that may not exist," said state Sen. Kim Ward, of the 39th District.
While the state is chipping in some money, Allegheny County Councilman and Election Board Chairman Tom Baker says the new machines will cost the county from $10 million to $15 million. The county is in the process of evaluating several different systems, but they all now come with paper backups.
"My wife and I, every time we vote, after each election, we always wonder why we don't have a paper, something with paper to take back with us," Baker said. "Hopefully, this will make people feel even more confident in their votes, that they are being cast and counted in the correct way."
Cox Media Group