MERCER – Mercer County commissioners approved spending nearly $1 million to buy a new voting system from an Omaha, Neb., company.
Although Thursday’s unanimous vote sets the price tag for Mercer County’s new voting system at $976,214, the contract with Election Systems & Software is not quite finalized.
Jeff Greenburg, director of Mercer County Voter Registration and Election Bureau, said in an interview a few aspects of the agreement, including software licensing, still need ironed out.
“That isn’t finalized yet,” he said.
He explained the commissioners’ vote Thursday was meant to expedite the process.
“We are so close,” Greenburg said.
He said timing is important to have the new machines, 100 DS200 scanners and 100 ExpressVote ballot marking devices, ready for the fall election. The commissioners, acting earlier this year in their capacity as the county election board, recommended purchasing the ES&S-manufactured devices.
“We want to deploy in November,” Greenburg said.
Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, the Pennsylvania Department of State last year directed all counties to have a voting system that creates a paper trail for every ballot that is cast before the 2020 presidential election.
The move came after Republicans alleged voter fraud and Democrats claimed Russian interference in the last presidential election in 2016, when President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.
The commissioners begrudgingly approved the contract price.
“I sure hate replacing a machine that works,” said Commissioner Tim McGonigle, referring to the ES&S-manufactured iVotronic touch screen machines currently used by the county.
Commissioner Matt McConnell, board chairman, agreed.
“Our other machines were in good shape,” McConnell said.
He said the state mandate leaves county taxpayers with the burden of replacing voting machines that were still functional.
Commissioner Scott Boyd concurred, but stressed the county negotiated a good price.
“None of us were excited about buying (new machines),” Boyd said. “But we saved the taxpayers as much as we can.”
The county will receive more than $118,000 in federal Help America Vote funding to defray a small portion of the cost.
John Logan, county fiscal administrator, was not impressed by the amount allotted to the county.
“Twelve percent is a pittance,” Logan said.
The county may receive additional assistance from the state, but that is contingent on the Pennsylvania legislature approving a budget that includes the funding.
“Hopefully, that will happen,” McGonigle said.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s has proposed a plan to give counties $75 million over five years, or $15 million annually. However, Greenburg said that may not happen.
“We aren’t guaranteed a dime from the state,” he said.
McConnell said in the interview the state should not have forced the change.
“It is what I consider an unnecessary expenditure,” he said. “It’s something the voters will find a step backward in technology and validity.”