DOYLESTOWN >> The Bucks County Board of Elections on Nov. 27 selected Clear Ballot to provide the county’s new voting machines and system.
The elections board, composed of Bucks County’s three county commissioners, voted 2 to 1 in favor of Clear Ballot, a system using handmarked paper ballots. It was one of five vendors that had been certified by Pennsylvania’s Department of State.
Commissioners’ Chairman Robert G. Loughery and Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Board of Elections, voted in favor of Clear Ballot. Commissioner Charles H. Martin, who preferred that no change occur and deemed ES&S XL as the best of the certified systems, voted no.
The long-anticipated decision came after many months of research and internal discussions. County officials also organized three well-attended public demonstrations of the five certified vendors between December 2018 and August 2019, during which members of the public were invited to try out each system and submit their observations and recommendations.
The commissioners were briefed in detail on the county staff’s research and findings, but no formal recommendation was made to them of one system over the others. All three commissioners thanked Chief Clerk Deanna Giorno and a review team of county staffers for their research and reporting on the five options.
“There’s been a lot of work done on this, and we’ve all taken a tremendous amount of time over the past year looking at this,” Loughery said.
The vote was the first of two required before the new machines and system can be purchased and implemented.
A contract memorializing the terms of the agreement and the final cost will now be drawn up and presented to the commissioners at their next public meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. on December 4 in Doylestown.
Clear Ballot is a voter-verified paper ballot system that uses ballots lacking bar codes or QR codes. Voters complete paper ballots by hand and feed them into a scanner, which drops the ballot into a ballot bag for transportation to the Board of Elections office in Doylestown at the end of Election Day.
The Clear Ballot scanners also scan an image of the completed ballots and tabulate results from each precinct for efficient Election Night reporting.
The Clear Ballot system also provides a ballot marking device for each polling place for voters who require ADA provisions. The ballot marking device prints a ballot identical to those provided to non-ADA voters at the polling place before it is fed into a scanner.
The decision was applauded by several members of the public who had persistently pushed for a handmarked ballot system, saying they are more secure and less expensive than those that use electronic machines to produce a paper ballot.
Ardith Talbott of Bucks County’s League of Women Voters said the League believed that “many electronic machines are vulnerable to technology that comes between the voter and the final count. We, like many cybersecurity experts across the nation, believe that the use of voter-handmarked paper ballots will provide the greatest security for our elections.”
Martin argued that ES&S had been chosen by 33 of the 54 counties that had selected new systems so far, and that the system had worked well in Philadelphia during the general election earlier this month. He said that many voters at the county’s demonstrations had expressed a preference for ES&S, and that the machines most closely resembled the machines currently used by the county.
In April 2018, all Pennsylvania counties were informed by the Commonwealth that they must select new voting systems that provide a verifiable paper record by the end of 2019, and that those new systems be in place no later than the 2020 primary.
Bucks County last replaced its voting machines in 2006, assisted by funding from the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. The Commonwealth has pledged to fund a substantial amount of the counties’ cost for the new systems, although the exact amount that Bucks County will receive has not been determined.