Court ruling puts voting change in question

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:08

    Ruling could cause voting delays and cost Pike thousands MILFORD - A state Commonwealth Court ruling has put Pike County efforts to comply with new federal voting law in limbo. Counties around the state have been trying to comply with federal law passed after the “chads” problem in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. Changes need to be completed before Pennsylvania’s May primaries. Until this week, the stumbling block was waiting for federal officials to certify the computer system Pike has selected, Commissioner’s Chair Harry Forbes said. The changeover involves purchase of machines for 18 voting districts, including two new ones in Delaware and Lackawaxen which are being created for the fall elections. The change will also involve training in the use of the new machines for poll workers and county election officials. Commissioner Richard Caridi said between 50- to 60-percent of a total cost, expected to exceed $200,000, was to have been reimbursed by the federal government. Caridi was concerned that the federal aid could be lost if the May deadline was not met. It is in question because on Monday, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini agreed with several Westmoreland County residents, who had argued in court that the county couldn’t buy the machines unless there was a referendum on changing the way voters cast their ballots. The ruling meant the purchase was a violation of the state Constitution and put changeover efforts on hold across the state. Caridi said the ruling came out of the blue, as the Pennsylvania Department of State “has for two years” assured counties that the federal law supercedes the state Constitution. “We really don’t know what’s going to happen now. We could conceivably wind up using our tried and true lever-action voting machines for state and local voting and paper ballots for federal elections,” he said. “We’re expecting this to go before the State Supreme Court, but it could be two weeks before they get it,” said a frustrated Caridi. “They mess up in Florida and we wind up paying for it here,” he added. Westmoreland County had planned to buy $2 million worth of touch-screen machines from Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software Inc. to comply with the federal voting act. State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny County, was among the Westmoreland residents who challenged the county’s plans to purchase the machines. More than half of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties must switch to electronic machines to comply with the federal rules by May. In Allegheny County, officials said they will review the court decision carefully. The county had been planning to buy more than 5,000 electronic voting machines to replace several thousand levered machines.