Residents, students try out new voting machines ahead of Election Day

The display at the Charles Library allowed passersby to try out the systems.

Carole Smith, senior constituent service advisor for U.S. State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, tests out the new voting machine at Charles Library on Oct. 17. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Pennsylvania’s new voting machines debuted at Charles Library on Thursday for students and residents to try out. 

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta organized the event but was not in attendance. The event did not attract many people, with about five residents showing up to test the new machines.

In February 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf passed a measure requiring all voting machines in the state to be replaced with new ones including paper ballots in time for the 2020 election, said Thomas Boland, a voter registration clerk from the City Commissioner’s Office.

Wolf passed the legislation after “federal authorities say Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states during 2016′s presidential election, including Pennsylvania,” the Associated Press reported when the directive was announced

Though Wolf is seeking $90 million to fund the new machines statewide, the threat of a lawsuit from republicans in the state legislature has held the initiative to just $14.1 million, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The partisan battle has forced counties across Pennsylvania to pay for many of the machines themselves.

The new touchscreen-based machines are produced by Election Systems and Software and were certified by Pennsylvania’s state department. Voters pick their preferred candidates and the result is stored in the machine itself via USB as well as on a paper ballot.

The system allows the voter to choose English or Spanish language questions and lasts eight hours on battery power, Boland said.

In February, Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state, instructed lawmakers to replace the old voting machines, which stored votes electronically without printed ballots, by 2020’s elections, the AP reported. Pennsylvania is one of the 13 states that does not allow voters to verify their ballots on paper, making it difficult to audit votes.

“[Kenyatta] wants to make sure all his constituents are able to work this machine before the election. We have a lot of seniors in this district, and they’re not tech-savvy,” said Carol Smith, a senior constituent services advisor for Kenyatta.

“We have to make sure it’s not last minute when people go to the machines,” Smith said. 

The new machines allow voters to change their minds on who they are going to vote for three times before their ballot is officially cast.

More than two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s counties will have updated voting machines election day on Nov. 5, Penn Live reported.

“At first people are confused, but then they get the hang of it,” Boland said. “Pretty good reviews so far.”

75-year-old Tom Upshaw, who lives at Camac and Diamond streets, attended the event. He said that the new system was simple to understand.

“It’s nice and easy,” Upshaw added. “You just had to read the ballots before. This is a little quicker.”

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