Pennsylvania must keep up on voting systems, lawmakers told

Written by Marc Levy/Associated Press | Feb 20, 2019 4:27 PM
Pennsylvania voting machines 2016.jpg

FILE- In this Oct. 14, 2016, file photo, a technician works to prepare voting machines to be used in the upcoming presidential election in Philadelphia. An expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences called for fundamental reforms to ensure the integrity of the U.S. election system. The report calls for replacing rickety voting machines with more-secure voting systems that use paper ballots or equivalents, and other measures such as a particular form of postelection audit aimed at spotting fraud. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

This story has been updated. 

(Harrisburg) -- Failing to replace its roughly 25,000 voting machines by next year's elections could leave Pennsylvania as the only state without voter-verifiable paper systems, and certainly the only swing state in that position, a top elections official told lawmakers Wednesday.

Kathy Boockvar, Gov. Tom Wolf's acting secretary of state, also told state senators that election-security experts agree that states should adopt systems with auditable paper backups by 2020's presidential elections.

"It's very rare that you have a circumstance where every expert related to anything to do with these issues agrees, and everybody agrees on one thing: that these systems need to be upgraded to voter-verifiable paper trails by 2020," Boockvar said during an Appropriations Committee hearing.

Pennsylvania is one of 13 states where some or all voters use machines that store votes electronically without printed ballots or another paper-based backup that allows a voter to double-check how their vote was recorded.

"Almost all, if not every single one of those 13 states will be upgrading by 2020," Boockvar said. "So if we don't, we will certainly be the only swing state, if not the only state, left in the country without a voter-verified paper trail. It's not a position that I think any of us at the county, state or federal level want to be in."

Boockvar was responding to questions suggesting that Pennsylvania is forcing counties to buy machines at considerable taxpayer expense -- an estimated $125 million statewide -- when there is no legitimate example of an election irregularity in the state.

"We have a rush to 2020," state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, told Boockvar. "We have a huge expense to our taxpayers, we have vendors who are using excessively high interest-rate proposals, we have governments that don't have a way to pay for these and we have no example, none, of a real legitimate issue."

Later, Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, singled out three states -- including North Carolina, where a congressional election is still up in the air over questions about a political operative's mail-in ballot-harvesting operation -- that saw irregularities in the 2018 election.

"They all had paper ballots," Folmer told Boockvar.

Better than 4 in 5 Pennsylvania voters use electronic voting machines that lack an auditable paper trail, according to election security analysts.

Wolf's push to require counties to buy new machines comes after federal authorities say Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states during 2016's presidential election, including Pennsylvania. In April, Wolf gave counties a deadline of 2020 to switch to voting machines that leave a paper trail.

So-called direct-recording electronic machines in wide use in Pennsylvania make it almost impossible to know if they've accurately recorded individual votes or if anyone tampered with the count.

Election officials say the machines can't be hacked because they are not connected to the internet. However, election-security analysts say ballot software is transferred to voting machines by inserting cartridges. They say those cartridges are programmed on a computer that could be hacked if it is connected to the internet.

Pressed by Mensch for how a machine might be hacked, Boockvar said it could not be done over the internet. But, she said, someone who has access to a voting machine could switch the cartridge.

Mensch called that "ludicrous."

"How would someone be able to walk into a polling place with a cartridge and change a cartridge?" Mensch asked.

It is easier on the state's current voting machines, but more difficult on the newer machines, Boockvar insisted.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania's top elections official is warning that failing to replace voting machines by 2020 could make the state the only one without a voter-verifiable paper trail.

Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania's acting state secretary, also told senators Wednesday during an Appropriations Committee hearing that election-security experts agree that moving to voting machines that allow voters to double-check how their vote was recorded needs to happen by next year.

That includes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Boockvar was responding to questions by Sen. Bob Mensch over why Pennsylvania is rushing to buy machines at considerable taxpayer expense when there's no legitimate example of a voter irregularity in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf's push for new machines comes after federal authorities say Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states during 2016's presidential election.

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