Voting machine with paper ballots tested by Luzerne County election workers

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Crispell -

A sample paper-trail voting machine was set up in the Luzerne County Courthouse on Thursday to obtain feedback from employees and election workers.

These types of systems require a physical paper ballot that can be reviewed by voters and kept by officials as a record in case final tallies must be checked. Voters insert the ballots into a tabulation device to cast their votes.

The state informed counties in April they must select new paper-trail machines by the end of 2019 and start using them by the 2020 primary if activation by the November 2019 general election is not feasible.

To start becoming familiar with potential options, county Election Director Marisa Crispell and her office coordinated Thursday’s demonstration and mock election on a machine by Unisyn Voting Solutions.

Crispell’s office previously held a similar demonstration of a paper-trail machine from Election Systems & Software, which had supplied the touch-screen electronic voting machines the county has been using since the 2006 primary.

Machines must be certified by the state before counties can buy them, and only one piece of equipment — a Unisyn tabulator — has met that hurdle to date, although several products from Unisyn and other companies are pending review, a state chart supplied by Crispell shows.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, voting systems must be examined by an authorized federal testing laboratory and certified by the Election Assistance Commission before they can be submitted for state consideration.

There are two ways to meet the paper-trail requirement — filling in ovals on actual paper or making selections on a computerized ballot-marking device similar to the way it’s done now, with the difference that voters must hit a button to print the ballot instead of casting it, Crispell has said.

The Unisyn demonstration Thursday used a touch-screen marking device.

After mock election participants picked celebrities and other pretend candidates and hit the print button, they retrieved a piece of paper listing their selections for them to review for accuracy. The paper resembled a store receipt but was on heavier paper stock.

Participants then fed their sheets into a tabulator that sat atop a plastic paper collection bin.

‘Efficient and effective’

Janet Hall, executive director of the county Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the process was simple to understand.

”Now you can see a printout and confirm your selections,” she said.

Another tester, county Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo, also liked the opportunity to change selections on the touch-screen and review the printout.

“The process is efficient and effective,” she said.

Carl Romanelli, who is among several Election Day workers participating in the ongoing screenings, said he supports the paper-trail concept but would prefer a system involving actual paper ballots to reduce the use of technology.

Crispell said she asked a team of election workers to assist mock voters and set up and shut down the machines to provide input on the pros and cons of each option. All voters Thursday were asked to fill out experience surveys.

County officials have estimated the new machines will cost $4 million, and they have not identified funding.

Crispell stressed the county is forced to comply with the directive because the current machines eventually will become decertified for use in elections.

“I don’t think some people realize we’re required to get machines with a paper back-up and must select ones that are certified for use after 2018,” she said.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.