Montgomery County, PA -- It's been 18 years since "the hanging chad" became part of the American lexicon amid controversy involving Florida's Votomatic-style punched card ballots that were incompletely punched causing errors in vote counts, and now Montgomery County's Board of Commissioners approved a $5.8 million contract with Dominion Voting Systems of Denver, Colorado, Thursday evening to provide a "voter-marked paper balloting system" that has a verifiable paper trail.
In an anachronistic twist, the new system with its paper ballots is set to replace the current electronic push-button machines that the county purchased in 1996.
Montgomery County officials said they plan to have the new system with Dominion's machines in place for the May 2019 primary election. This shift to the Dominion machines comes primarily due to the age of the current system, but voter fraud and vote counting problems with electronic systems have been a matter of national concern since 2016.
"Voters will still be able to privately cast their ballot," said Dr. Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, "just like the current system, and the simple paper ballot will give them the highest confidence that their votes will be accurately recorded and counted."
Dominion, a company founded in 2002 -- 2 years after the election issues of the Bush-Gore Florida Recount scandal of 2000 -- is leading the way back to paper ballots because of the concern over security and accuracy in vote counting.
In fact, Dominion was involved in a vote-counting scandal from the recent mid-term elections in Palm Beach County Florida. One of Dominion's technicians saw a Palm Beach County worker running one of Dominion's voting machines by jury-rigging a paperclip to keep the machine perpetually running.
This modification helped create problems in the vote counts for one of the closest elections in the country, and Susan Bucher, the county's Supervisor of Elections blamed the equipment for missing a recount deadline.
“Our vendor technician actually witnessed a Palm Beach staff member using a paperclip positioned to hold the 'enter' key down on the system and it was keeping the motor running even when ballots weren't being fed into it,” Dominion Vice President of Government Affairs Kay Stimson told First Coast News. “That's not standard operating procedure for this system or any voting system for that matter."
Dominion has been leading the charge to update and upgrade voting machines throughout the country, bidding on contracts in states such as Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. Dominion closed a deal of $1 million with Wood County, OH, and is bidding on deals in Bucks County, PA, as well as Clark County, OH.
Dominion notably had a $95 million deal with Louisiana to provide 10,000 new voting machines for the 2019 fall election get rejected by the governor amid claims of bid-rigging.
According to Nola.com, the state's procurement office determined the secretary of state's office didn't follow the legal requirements for a state contract.
The way the new machines work in Montgomery County was showcased this past February at the Montgomery County Community College's Blue Bell campus. Three-hundred residents had a chance to view, test and give feedback on voting systems from 14 vendors. Dominion was the vendor chosen.
The way the voting will work now in Montgomery County is that in most cases voters will use a pen to fill out a ballot and have an opportunity to check it for accuracy before submitting it to a scanner that then tabulates the votes and keeps the ballot in a secure container for audits or recounts.
Each polling place will also have an ADA touchscreen machine that can be used to select candidates. When using the touchscreen, the voter makes their selections and then when the voter is finished, the machine will print out a paper ballot that the voter can verify before submitting it for tabulation.
“We are very excited that Montgomery County officials have chosen Dominion Voting Systems as their partner for introducing the next generation of voting equipment,” said Dominion CEO John Poulos. “We are confident that our election technology will suit the diverse needs of the county and its voters, particularly in an age where quality and security are paramount.”
In light of the problems that Florida faced this past election, Montgomery County Officials want to get their polling places up to speed with the new system to make the transition smooth and easy.
“Now that we’ve made our selection, we have to get to work training our poll workers and making sure the public has as many opportunities as possible to see the new system and become familiar with it so that election day goes as smoothly as possible,” said Commissioner Vice Chair Ken Lawrence, Jr., who also chairs the county’s Election Board.
Between now and the May 2019 primary election, Montgomery County Voter Services will conduct an extensive public outreach campaign and poll worker training to make sure the election goes as smoothly as possible.
There will be at least one large open house in early spring, well before the primary election, where members of the public will be able to try out the new voter-marked paper ballot system and become familiar with how it will work. There will also be other opportunities for the public to become familiar with the system scheduled at various times and locations throughout the county.
"As a County Commissioner and member of the Election Board, I look forward to helping the citizens of Montgomery County get acquainted and accustomed with the new voting machines so every voice can be heard in the primary and general election process," Commissioner Joe Gale said.
Videos and other voter education materials will be available online and will be made available at the offices of state legislators, municipal buildings and libraries as soon as they become available.