Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Allegheny County panel still reviewing voting machines

Monday, August 27, 2007

By Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


The committee charged with figuring out the solution to the voting machine dilemma has more work to do.


The members presented an initial report to Allegheny County Council last week. This week, they are going to sit down to figure out what they need to do to complete their task.


But even if the panel comes up with firm recommendations and a specific new system, the county chief executive's office is not going to switch voting systems, Kevin Evanto, the spokesman for Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, said.


"Their preferred technology wasn't chosen and rather than moving along and working with the machine that was selected they continue to raise doubts and questions," he said.


That committee, the Allegheny County Citizens Election System Advisory Panel, was created by County Council and charged with reviewing the available technology.


The panel's commission is set to expire at the end of the year.


Suzanne Broughton, president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh and a member of the advisory panel, said there are certain standards the county must meet if the elections system is going to work well and have the confidence of the citizenry.


She said the panel is calling for a system that has a verifiable paper record of the votes cast and meets federal guidelines for accessibility, and its machines should be subject to random audits.


It is calling for a system that meets all of those requirements to be in place by the November 2008 general election.


The problems found in voting systems during the 2000 presidential election led to changes in the nation's election laws and the passage of the 2002 Help America Vote Act.


The act required counties to buy new voting machines by January 2006, but Allegheny County bought a system that neither meets the accessibility guidelines nor has an independently verifiable paper trail.


Ms. Broughton said the panel is not ready to recommend a specific voting system, though it does appear that there are systems with optical scan ballots which both leave a paper trail and can be used by the disabled.


Mr. Evanto said the county already has a contract with ES&S, the maker of the current voting machines, to install the specialized equipment to allow people with disabilities to vote independently as soon as the technology is certified by the state and federal governments. He said the county will also install voter verifiable paper audit trail updates when they are certified, too.


The problems the panel raised in its initial report are the same that were raised by voter advocates before the 2006 primary, when the county purchased the system for $12 million, using a federal grant.


The panel wants to be able to see and test some models to determine if they would meet the criteria of being secure, accurate, recountable and accessible, Ms. Broughton said.


"We have three months to work through whether we want to recommend a specific machine or not," she said. "We believe that the county needs to find machines that meet those requirements."



First published at PG NOW on August 26, 2007 at 11:54 pm

Ann Belser can be reached at or 412-263-1699.


Copyright 1997 - 2007 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.