"What's black and white and read all over?"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Posted 9:35 PM by

New voting machines, more choices mean problems ahead

Get ready to wear out your fingers on newfangled voting machines and a very long election night as official try to figure out how to get them to count the results properly.When Pennsylvania voters go to the polls next month, most will be confronted with new voting machines and more choices to boot.

Fueled by anger over the Legislature's self-imposed payraise, 61 incumbents will face challengers in the May 16 primary - more than double the number of incumbents in state races who were challenged in the 2004 election.

I fully expect chaos will ensue.

Don't worry, your government is here to help.

You know, the same people who got state Supreme Court permission to ignore the Constitution's requirement that any change of voting machines first be approved by referendum using the old machines.

It was either that, or Pennsylvania counties would have to reimburse the federal government up to $135 million from the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act to help replace obsolete mechanical-lever and punch-card machines.

By the way, it's been more than a month since the March 2 ruling, but the Supreme Court has yet to post a full opinion on its Web site justifying its reversal of a Commonwealth Court decision that the purchase of new machines would be illegal.

As usual, confusion over the federal requirement reigned and most counties waited until the last minute for somebody to finally figure the whole mess out for them.

In Bucks County where I live, the commissioners felt it would be imprudent to rush into a contract with a vendor whose product had not been certified, Chief Operating Officer David Sanko said.

The county is talking with its vendor - Washington-based Danaher Corp. - and other counties in hopes of obtaining a minimal number of the touch-screen devices to get through the primary. But Sanko said it is prepared to use its lever machines - and risk losing at least some of its $3 million in federal money - if that is unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, election officials in other counties are now scrambling to purchase, unpack and figure out the manuals to new electronic touch-screen or optical-scan systems before the election.

This is the error I received Tuesday when I tried to use the state's Web site which is supposed to show voters how to use the new voting machines. I can't wait for election night.With the counties busy, the state has launched its "Ready.Set.Vote." program Tuesday to teach voters how to use the new machines via the Internet.

At, people are supposed to be able to learn by casting a vote in one of five weekly "cultural elections." For example, visitors to the Web site will be asked: "What is your favorite movie ever made in Pennsylvania?"

But when I tried it tonight all I got was an error page. Oops.

Once they get that figured out, somebody still has to teach the old folks who will be manning the polls on election day how to use computers when they had a hard enough time figuring out manual levers.

My prediction - a very long election night.


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