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Intelligencer Editorial, February 8, 2007
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Intelligencer Editorial
February 8, 2008
Time to reconsider: Voting machine controversy won't go away

The controversy over Bucks County's use of suspect electronic voting machines is not going away; and with a growing mountain of evidence suggesting that the machines harbor some serious flaws we think it is now incumbent upon the county commissioners to revisit their decision to purchase the machines two years ago.

We supported the comissioners' decision back then, believing it had been made on the basis of good information and a thorough review even though the vote to purchase more than 700 Danaher electronic machines for about $3.8 million was soundly criticized, particularly by a group known as the Coalition for Voting Integrity. The coalition has never ceased in its efforts to have the Danaher machines – which they say are vulnerable to hacking and produce no paper record of the votes actually cast – tossed out in favor of a system using optically scanned paper ballots. Paper ballots may seem to some like a step backward, but opponents of the elctronic machines insist such ballots represent the best way to reassure voters that their choices are accurately recorded.

This week a standing-room-only crowd of some 100 citizens – and there were more who couldn't be physically accommodated in the room – packed the commissioners meeting with a single purpose in mind: to convince Republican Commissoners Jim Cawley and Charley Martin and Democrat Diane Marseglia to support a federal bill that would reimburse counties for the cost of replacing electronic voting machines with a paper ballot voting system. Cawley and Martin refused, noting they weren't sure the bill would really reimburse counties based on comments made by county chief operating officer Dave Sanko. A spokesman for Bucks Congressman Patrick Murphy, a co-sponsor of the bill, disputed Sanko's analysis.

More and more unfavorable information is coming to light about electronic voting machines, including from watchdog group Common Cause. It would seem that this is no time for the Republican commissioners to turn a deaf ear (some might say an arrogant deaf ear) to an issue that clearly has a lot of county residents upset. A longtime committeewoman, who has been voting for 60 years, said at the meeting, "I always had faith that my vote was counted accurately, and I do not have that confidence now." We don't believe that's an isolated sentiment. A number of other states have already decided that electronic voting machines are just too fraught with demonstrated and/or potential problems and have decertified their use.

Costs have to be considered. The county has already spent going on $4 million to buy the Danaher machines and just approved almost $100,000 to extend the machines' warranty for another year. The House bill as drafted would authorize $500 million in federal funds for the switch away from electronic machines, but even if it doesn't cover the entire cost or the bill doesn't pass at all, there's something more important than money going on here. Accurate voting goes to the very heart of what this country is all about.

The electronic voting machines were sold to the public as accurate, easy to use and a major improvement over the mechanical machines they replaced. They are easy to use. But their superiority to the old lever machines as far as yielding a true picture of voter sentiment remains to be proven.

The Republican commissioners can no longer turn their backs on this. They were elected to serve the voters who elected them. By maintaining there is no problem, they are serving only themselves.