In an article that appeared in The Daily Herald in Thursday’s addition, information was provided concerning Governor Tom Wolf’s $90 million dollar bond issue request in order to help pay back a total of 60 percent of the new voting machines that were mandated in an unfunded mandate to each county. This mandate effected all of the counties within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
On Friday morning, during an interview with Blair County Commissioner Bruce Erb, the emphasis on this story switches paths from Harrisburg and those issues concerning the bond issue to that of the local Blair County area.
According to Commissioner Bruce Erb, “We were required to purchase new voting machines in an unfunded mandate by Governor Wolf. We then began a search for voting machines and a good fit for what would be best for Blair County. We then purchased the voting machines and they have been delivered. The cost of these machines to the county came slightly over $820,000 approximately.”
Although the mandate stated that the new voting machines are to be in place and used in the November, 2020, elections, Blair County has decided to initiate the voting machines to be used in November of 2019, due to this being an off year election.
“There will be bugs in something new just like everything else that encompasses change. We decided to not wait until November 2020, but rather in 2019 when there may not be as high a turnout. Thus having any issues worked out by the 2020 November elections. It is my understanding that Montgomery county, which is a very large county near Philadelphia utilized their new machines in this past May election to work out any glitches,” Erb said.
As for the $90 million bond issue that the Governor is proposing, Erb never hesitated in offering the county’s support. “We are supporting this bond issue very much. Governor Wolf had vetoed the Bill 48 earlier because it had a direct link to straight party voting issues. The Democrats are in favor of being able to vote a straight ticket and Republicans wanted a change to not having straight party button pushed voting,” Erb said.
This $90 million bond would fund a refund of 60 percent of what the counties had to spend due to this unfunded mandate. That would mean for Blair County we would receive slightly under a return of $500,000 back into our county funds.
According to Erb, the commissioners have had extensive talks with Senator Judy Ward, Rep. Jim Gregory, and Rep. Lou Schmitt on this funding opportunity and they have been extremely supportive.
Erb also stated, “We knew we were going to have to replace our voting machines that we were using as they were old and were not going to be able to be serviced by the company. In 2017, we had a bond and we were setting money aside for this looking ahead to this project. However, some other pressing projects arose and a portion of that set aside money needed to be used. It is obvious that without this refunding of the money spent to purchase the new voting machines, we would need to cut other projects that have been on the drawing board in he county.”
Sen. Judy Ward was contacted and she had this to share concerning this entire situation. “The whole thing is partisanship. We cannot allow counties and taxpayers to have the brunt of paying the tab for this. The governor decided to decertify all of the voting machines in Pennsylvania, even though there were no reported issues within Pennsylvania. We need to slow the process down. The legislature was not included in this process. Bill 48 was set for election reform. In particular, to do away with straight party votes casting. Rather have people vote that way if they wanted, but look at each candidate and cast a vote. The governor on his own put in this bond issue without going to legislature. The governor cannot spend money that the legislature has not approved,” Ward said in conclusion.
Rep. Jim Gregory had very similar thoughts concerning this entire situation. “The governor put all of the counties in this mess by desertification of the voting machines which he took upon himself to do. Then it was up to the legislature for us to come in and clean up the financial mess that had been created. Giving the governor power to unilateral fund something puts us in peril. Bill 48 was vetoed over election reform issues. The governor originally came back with a figure that the legislature ended up increasing. We are supporting the funding with the thoughts of this money going back to the counties and the taxpayers” Gregory stated.
The voters of Blair County will not have to wait until the November of 2019 elections to see and get to use the new voting machines. “In early August, we are going to be training our staff locally by the vendor who will be coming in to conduct the training. At the conclusion of that training, the county staff will then train the election board members. After that is completed, we will be using county libraries and community centers to set up training sessions for the public who can come in and actually use the machines to become familiar with them prior to the 2019 election process,” Erb said.
The Daily Herald will report back to readers as the process of this $90 million makes its way along the path to a final vote on its way to approval in Harrisburg.