Election director foresees smooth transition

MERCER – By late July, Mercer County should have its new voting machines, Voter Registration and Election Director Jeff Greenburg told county commissioners last week.

Election Systems and Software – the Omaha, Neb., company that manufactured the iVotronic devices that the county is phasing out, and the DS200 and VoteExpress machines that Mercer County voters will use starting in November – will take away the old voting system hardware in the middle of next month, Greenburg said.

A week later, ES&S will begin delivering the new machines.

The county selected the DS200 optical scanning machine and VoteExpress ballot marking device earlier this year as the county’s new voting system. Greenburg said he expects that the county will have one of each machine at each polling location.

The DS200 will count paper ballots that voters complete at the polling locations. The VoteExpress machines will be available to comply with federal accessibility regulations.

Both machines meet state requirements, including the existence of an auditable, countable paper trail of votes cast. The existing machines store votes in computer memory without a paper trail of individual votes.

Greenburg said he expects poll worker training to go smoothly ahead of the new system’s first use in the Nov. 5 municipal general election, based on the process in other counties, including neighboring Lawrence County, that used the ES&S-manufactured devices.

The only problem that Greenburg said he was aware of was in counties that set the DS200 to reject every ballot with undervotes, which happen when voters don’t make a selection for every office up for election.

An undervote would take place, for example, when a voter can vote for a maximum of five school board candidates and only selects four. If the DS200 is set to reject undervotes, Greenburg said it could cause hundreds of ballots to be kicked back in every precinct.

“They were programmed to kick out every anomaly,” he said. “You can’t do that, or the votes will never go through.”

Greenburg said that wasn’t a problem in Lawrence County in the May primary, and it won’t be a problem in Mercer County for the upcoming election. Mercer County machines might reject overvotes – when voters select too many candidates – but not undervotes.

County officials are continuing their preparation for the November election next week, as Greenburg attends a statewide training session in Lancaster County for conducting post-election audits of the paper ballot trail.

As the state legislature completes work this week on a 2019-20 budget, Greenburg said he has been monitoring proposals for providing additional funding to counties for voting machine purchases.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal included providing more money to help counties pay for new machines, but Greenburg doesn’t expect that help to be forthcoming in the short term.

“I don’t anticipate that it will happen this year,” he said.