MERCER — Paying for new voting systems — a process already underway in Mercer County — will fall to property owners across the state after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed an aid package last week.
"No additional funding means we are placing the burden on property owners," said Jeff Greenburg, Mercer County director of voter registration and elections.
Wolf, who ordered that counties adopt voting systems that provide paper documentation of votes cast before the 2020 presidential election, vetoed a bill that would have allowed the state to borrow $90 million for new voting systems. The governor said he rejected the bill because it also included eliminating straight-party voting as a single-choice ballot option.
The bill would have paid up to 60 percent of individual county costs. Under that provision, Mercer County could have received up to $585,728.55 in reimbursement for its contract of $976,214.25 with ES&S of Omaha, Neb.
Under the vetoed bill, the state would have borrowed the $90 million immediately, which Greenburg said was a better deal than a proposal by Wolf earlier this year to provide counties with $75 million over five years — about $15 million a year.
So far, the state's payments amount to about 12 percent of Mercer County's expenses, although Greenburg is hopeful that additional support might still materialize. He said state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18th, Bucks County, plans to introduce a new bill for $90 million in voting machine funding.
ES&S, which also manufactured the iVotronic touchscreen voting machines Mercer County voters used for the last time in the May primary, will deliver optical scanners to count paper ballots at each precinct and ballot marking devices for the November general election.
Greenburg said the county submitted its first payment of $342,802.31 last month to ES&S, and that the remaining sum will be paid in accordance with the county's contract with the company, regardless of whether the state provides additional support.
"Any funding that would be coming would be a reimbursement," he said.
However, Greenburg said he is "disgusted" by the state legislature's move to tie ballot reform issues such as the removal of straight-party voting options to helping fiscally strapped counties comply with a mandate from Harrisburg.
"Why does the funding have to be paired with any reform?" he said. "I'm disgusted by the effort on both sides of the aisle to politicize the funding issue."