(The Center Square) – A coalition of unlikely allies said Tuesday that paper ballots will protect voters from disenfranchisement in the upcoming November election.
The bipartisan group – including Americans for Tax Reform, R Street, Public Citizen, and National Election Defense Coalition (NEDC), among others – penned a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar urging the leaders to spend federal dollars on security upgrades for November that would discourage the use of touch screen voting machines and ensure that the majority print out “voter-verified paper ballots” as a defense against computer malfunctions.
“This should not be a partisan fight,” said Ben Ptashnik, president of NEDC. “Insecure voting equipment and lack of preparedness only serves to disenfranchise voters of both parties.”
The letter recommends polling places keep enough paper ballots on hand in case the voting system falls victim to a cyberattack or malfunction. It also suggests 24/7 video monitoring and limits on internet connectivity to reduce avenues for hackers to tamper with machines.
“Our elections should be ironclad, and we benefit from being able to double-check the results,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “The steps outlined in this letter will help Pennsylvania shore up elections in 2020 and beyond.”
Congress gave states $425 million to beef up election security in December after alleged Russian interference in 2016 exposed the vulnerabilities of state voting systems. Pennsylvania received more than $14 million in March, though it’s unclear how the money has been spent so far.
Even as protests over police brutality and systemic racism ramped up in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Erie – prompting an emergency declaration from the governor – the state tallied more than 2.5 million votes in the presidential primary race.
The COVID-19 pandemic swept across Pennsylvania later that same month, prompting lawmakers to push the April 28 primary until June 2. Wolf also encouraged residents to take advantage of mail-in voting – now legal after the Legislature approved it and other major voting reforms last year – to limit the number of people gathering at the polls.
Residents listened, it seems, with more than 1.8 million applying for mail-in privileges before Election Day. Even as protests over police brutality and systemic racism ramped up in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Erie – prompting an emergency declaration from the governor – the state tallied more than 2.5 million votes in the presidential primary race. Voting machines with verifiable paper ballots were active in all 67 counties, according to the Department of State.
On the night of the election, Boockvar described the primary, despite its unprecedented challenges, as a success.
“Today would look and feel differently than any election in our lifetimes and it did,” she said. “These factors are why I’m so happy to be able to report that today’s election went remarkably smoothly and we have no issues to report.”
Not everyone agrees. President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee, and four GOP congressmen – Glen Thompson, Mike Kelly, John Joyce and Guy Reschenthaler – sued Boockvar and all 67 county election boards in federal court on Monday over the way some primary mail-in ballots were collected and counted.
The plaintiffs want the court to prohibit mail-in and absentee ballots from being accepted anywhere except county board of elections offices – not in shopping centers, parking lots, fairgrounds, parks or retirement homes, as happened in the state’s primary election last month.
Then there’s the ongoing threat of COVID-19, Ptashnik said.
“Citizens who prefer to vote in-person should not have to use touch screen voting machines that are not only vulnerable to error and hacking, they can also spread the COVID-19 infection and endanger their health,” he said.
Lyndsay Kensinger, Wolf’s spokesperson, said Pennsylvania’s “significant” elections security improvements have earned the recognition of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“The administration is committed to ensuring that every registered voter in Pennsylvania is able to exercise their right to vote in November and is working with county boards of election across the state to ensure that both federal and state funds for election administration are used wisely to ensure a secure, convenient election,” she said.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.
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