Audit says officials took freebies from voting machine firms


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By Mark Scolforo

Pennsylvania's elected auditor said Feb. 22 that officials in 18 of the state's 67 counties reported accepting gifts, meals or trips from firms competing to sell or lease new voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said accepting the gifts is wrong, even though it's a legal practice and officials may have taken no action in return.

“Anyone who took them, period, could be swayed by the perks," he said. Public officials, he said, should not “accept this nonsense."

The gifts included expense-paid travel to destinations including Las Vegas, tickets to a wine festival and private distillery tour, dinners at high-end restaurants, tickets to an amusement park and an open bar at a conference for elections officials, DePasquale said. A promotional folding chair, doughnuts and candy, were among other gifts.

“I want counties to make their decisions based on the best interests of voters and not on any other factors," DePasquale, a Democrat, said at a news conference announcing the findings.

DePasquale said the free food and drink ranged from lobster dinners to cups of coffee, and said the free entertainment was not reasonably linked to the question of which machines would be best.

“I don't know what a wine tour has to do with the quality of a voting system," he said.

The survey covered the past five years. DePasquale said most of the gift and travel recipients were county elections officials, and a few were county commissioners.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is pressing counties to buy voting machines with voter-auditable paper backups ahead of the 2020 election. Federal authorities said Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states during 2016's presidential election, including Pennsylvania.

Wolf has imposed a gift ban on the executive branch under his jurisdiction, but such rules do not necessarily apply to counties. DePasquale said he has reason to think that at least some recipients may not have disclosed gifts as required, and is referring those matters to the State Ethics Commission for review.

The total cost of buying new machines across Pennsylvania is expected to be more than $125 million.



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