Governor Tom Wolf’s move to borrow money to support new county voting machines didn’t mesh too well with some Bradford County Commissioners, who asked to weigh in on the recent action on voting machine reimbursement measures in Harrisburg during Thursday’s commissioners meeting.
Commissioners Doug McLinko and Daryl Miller both specifically called for the government to fund the reimbursements through better fiscal management instead of turning to bonding.
“At the local level, we bought and paid for those machines from money we had set aside, and the state government was going to borrow money to reimburse us some. … It just shows a comparison for how the two bodies of government are run,” said McLinko, who was attending Thursday’s meeting via speakerphone.
“To me, they should find the funds without having to go out and borrow money to pay for equipment they mandated that counties have to have by the spring of 2020,” said Miller.
In an announcement made earlier this week, Wolf said the state would fund up to $90 million to cover 60 percent of voting system upgrade costs for counties. This came shortly after Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 48, which proposed a County Voting System Reimbursement Account.
The bill also required future governors to provide ample notification and to secure General Assembly approval before attempting to decertify and replace voting machines across the state, according to a memorandum that helped introduce the bill.
“If the General Assembly is expected to finance the lion’s share of the governor’s plan, then the General Assembly should have a role in the development of the policy and how it relates to the expenditures of the state funds that we are entrusted with,” said state Sen. John R. Gordner (R-27) in the bill’s memorandum.
Included in his veto message, Wolf said, “This legislation, while purporting to secure elections, binds the hands of future administrations through a decertification procedure which weakens the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to flaws that would require the decertification of large numbers of machines fewer than 180 days before an election. This is not acceptable as a legislative measure.”
However, state Rep. Stan Saylor (R-94), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the move “executive overreach.”
“The governor’s executive actions risk the good relationship that he has cultivated with the General Assembly over the last couple of months,” Saylor continued. “So far, the governor has not stated his legal authority to bond $90 million without legislative approval. The House is currently reviewing all of its legal options to respond to this.”
The new, more secure voting machines include a printout for vote verification and a paper trail, and were to be in place by spring 2020 for the next presidential election.
Commissioners Miller and Ed Bustin weren’t surprised by the veto, with Bustin noting that other measures, such as the elimination of straight party voting, were also included in the bill.
Wolf said the elimination of this measure would remove a convenient option for voters, could increase wait time at the polls, and discourage some voter participation.
Bradford County purchased its new voting machines around the beginning of the year for around $1.3 million, and utilized them for the first time during the May primary.
Both Miller and Bustin noted that the only money the county has received so far is $62,000 from the federal government.
“We are managing elections, not only at the local level, the county level, but also at the state and federal level, so everyone has a buy in and everyone should help us recoup the cost that we’ve incurred,” said Bustin.