Decision 2020

In Wake of Iowa Turmoil, Pa. Preps Millions of Voters for New Machines

County election officials across Pennsylvania feel the pressure ahead of the April 28 primary here to avoid any issues like to what caused a chaotic voting in Iowa this week

NBCUniversal, Inc.

What to Know

  • Philadelphia and most of Pennsylvania's counties purchased new voting machines last year for the first time in decades. Many were first put in use for the Nov. 5 election.
  • The debacle in Iowa's caucuses Monday have again reinforced the need for technical and organizational expertise in overseeing the first presidential election in Pennsylvania with the new machines.
  • Paper ballots are printed as duplicates to electronic ballots cast on some of the new voting machines, which safeguard the election process in an era of hacking fears.

What's old is new again, at least in the case of U.S. elections.

Paper ballots are now either the primary way many millions of voters pick their choices at polling places, or they act as duplicates printed to verify electronic ballots cast.

In a world of computer hacking fears and social media influence campaigns by foreign agents, the archaic ritual of hand-writing who you want in public office exudes the most confidence these days.

"Given concerns about foreign hacking in particular, this is a critical change to make," Pat Christmas of election watchdog group Committee of Seventy told NBC10.

Still, a change back to the old ways of casting a ballot has made some election officials in Pennsylvania counties aware of the possible angst by voters at the polls.

After the country watched the Iowa Caucuses devolve into chaos Monday at the official start of the presidential primary campaign, the pressure has grown for election officials across Pennsylvania to maintain confidence in elections.

"We’re trying to make people comfortable with using them," Delaware County Counciwoman Monica Taylor said of the new paper ballot system there.

The Pennsylvania and Delaware primaries are April 28. The New Jersey primary is June 2. Turnout is expected to be massive amid the contentious presidential election cycle.

Some advocacy groups in Philadelphia have protested the city's choice for new voting machines since the City Commissioners paid millions for the updated machines last year.

The Philadelphia machines are still electronic-based, requiring voters to use a touchscreen to cost their ballots. A duplicate paper ballot that is printed in front of the voter and visible for review accompanies the electronic one.

Ballots took longer than previous elections to be counted in the Nov. 5 election, but city officials said the use of new voting machines went smoothly.

Controversy surrounded the purchase earlier in the year of hundreds of ExpressVote XL voting machines from a company called ES&S. The city controller's office contended the contract procurement process for the machines was not properly executed.

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