$90M bond issue for voting machines clears state financing agency

Market volatility could help Pa. land favorable financing terms

  • Emily Previti/PA Post

HARRISBURG – State officials on Wednesday approved a proposed $90 million bond issuance to help cover costs for new voting machines across Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority’s unanimous vote moves the deal forward. The 10-year bonds haven’t been sold yet, though that’s expected to happen within the next few months, said Steve Drizos, director of PEDFA’s private financing center.

Counties have until July 1 to submit applications for reimbursement for eligible costs. So far, counties have signaled they’ll seek reimbursement for about $136.5 million, combined, according to Deputy Secretary of State Jonathan Marks.

That doesn’t include costs for additional machines, scanners or other equipment counties might have realized they need after they bought new election systems, or additional expenses made after the April 28 primary, when voting machines will debut in 22 counties.

Some counties decided to buy more machines after experiencing long lines and other problems at the polls last November.

Others finalized their contracts with voting machine vendors before state lawmakers enacted a historic election code overhaul last fall. In particular, new rules for mailed ballots could prompt counties to buy more scanners.

The new rules allow Pennsylvanians to vote by mail without an excuse. As a result, elections administrators estimate the proportion of mailed ballots to rise from 5 percent of turnout to 15 or 20 percent in November.

Also, state law now requires counties to process all mailed ballots at their main elections offices. Before, they were scanned at individual precincts.

Recent financial market volatility driven by coronavirus concerns could translate to more favorable financing terms for government agencies looking to sell bonds. It’s unclear, however, what conditions will be like by the time the agency actually goes to market, Drizos noted.

Only Delaware and Ohio have issued debt specifically to buy election equipment, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While bonding to pay for voting systems is relatively rare now, some experts think that could change as election officials increasingly report they lack sufficient funds to pay for badly needed upgrades. 

 

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