By the 2020 presidential election, every county in Pennsylvania should have new voting machines that keep a paper backup record of actual voting to prevent hackers from corrupting the system.
That’s a tight timeline. Even worse, there isn’t enough money for counties to pay for the machines.
Political leaders should be climbing over each other to protect voting, the most powerful right we have. Knowing since at least 2016 that voting systems were vulnerable to hackers, members of Congress sat on their hands and only appropriated $380 million in 2018 for the entire country to update voting systems. Pennsylvania got just $14.5 million out of the deal. Gov. Tom Wolf included a paltry $15 million in his budget. That is absurd. In the city of Philadelphia alone, new machines are slated to cost as much as $27 million.
County election officials around Pennsylvania are rightly having meltdowns over the pittance federal and state governments are putting toward new, more secure voting machines, expected to cost about $150 million statewide.
The Wolf administration says it’s working on other, as yet unknown, funding options. That’s good, but the Trump administration and Congress, should actually fund the new machines. If they can find billions for an unnecessary border wall, surely they can spend what it takes to safeguard against a crisis if the voting system is compromised. They should show they have a vested interest in upholding voter rights and ensuring that the system is safe from tampering and that they understand voters need to have confidence that their votes will be counted.
Voter confidence has been shaken by reports of Russian tampering in the 2016 election. Hacking attempts extended to 21 states, including Pennsylvania, but did not disrupt the election. The threat, however, remains.
Testifying before the state Senate Appropriations Committee last week, acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar said that if Pennsylvania doesn’t replace its roughly 25,000 machines, most of which do not have a verifiable backup system, it would be the only state in the country without newer, more secure machines.
“We will certainly be the only swing state, if not the only state, left in the country without a voter-verified paper trail,” Boockvar said. “It’s not a position that I think any of us at the county, state, or federal level want to be in.”
Individual machines can be hacked simply by changing their computer cartridges. The sabotage may not affect an entire county, but consider what could happen if a few machines were hacked in a single Philadelphia City Council district. It could throw off the vote count, changing the outcome of that election.
Philadelphia’s City Commissioners bought new machines last week even as advocates said the process was too rushed. Counties around the state are making similar decisions. Now that the machines are getting ordered, county leaders would be wise to allocate the funds if the state and federal governments continue to turn their backs on citizens.