While they weren’t catastrophic, a few problems in last week’s election revealed Luzerne County’s voting machines are starting to show their age, county Election Director Marisa Crispell said.
The county started using touch-screen electronic voting machines in the 2006 primary, or 11 years ago.
“Technology is constantly moving forward,” Crispell said. “Many people change phones every two years and regularly update their laptops. These machines are no different.”
One example she cited: The touch-screen capabilities froze on a few machines in the election last Tuesday. After officials verified no votes were cast on the machines, they were taken out of service, Crispell said.
In Larksville, a back-up retrieval device had to be used to collect election data from voting machines because the device normally used to load ballots and extract results — called a personal election ballot, or PEB — failed, Crispell said.
Result tallies for several machines also had to be printed at the county election bureau, as opposed to polling places, because a few hand-held printers were not working properly, she said.
Like many of her colleagues across the state, Crispell said she continues to research options for Luzerne County’s next voting system.
Luzerne County has no capital funds set aside for new voting machines. Election officials in Pennsylvania have been informed no federal funding is expected for the next generation of machines, Crispell said.
The federal government gave the county $3.6 million to fund the initial switch to the electronic voting machines now in use and cover the cost of other improvements required by the Help America Vote Act, commonly called HAVA, officials said.
Crispell said she and other county election leaders are simultaneously pushing for state election reform, including the allowance of regional vote centers that would reduce election-day staffing expenses and the number of machines that must be purchased by county taxpayers.
State law currently requires a polling place in each municipality, and Luzerne County has 76. The county has 180 voting precincts due to additional requirements based on population and the way local seats are carved out.
The turnout last Tuesday was less than 40 voters in at least two municipalities, Crispell said, adding: “But we still have to set up machines and bring in election workers.”
The calibration of machines, which involves aligning the touch-screen boxes to the proper selection, came up again on Tuesday. Of the 705 machines set up for the election, approximately five had to be recalibrated on Election Day, Crispell said.
One Jackson Township voter publicly posted a video about his calibration encounter to urge others to pay attention. The video showed a checkmark appearing by the name of one county council contender, even though his finger touched the box for the one below.
The voter, who did not want to be identified, said he was able to de-select the one he didn’t want and choose the correct candidate.
Crispell and other county election officials pondered whether this voter’s fingernail tapped the box above. Regardless, they stressed they received no complaints from voters who were unable to correct problems and select their chosen candidates before casting their ballots.
Voters must verify their selections are accurate before they hit the final confirm button. After the initial selection, the machines contain both review and confirm pages, with the option for voters to return to the ballot to change any selections.
Calibration testing is performed on all machines before they are sealed and delivered to polling places, but Crispell said calibration issues surface in most elections, possibly due to the jostling of machines during delivery and set-up.
“The key is the system won’t force voters to cast a ballot for someone they did not select,” Crispell said.