Being able to conduct secure, accurate, verifiable elections should be a priority in any democracy.
In our view, there should be no roadblocks or excuses to achieving that goal. The reality is, we face some tough challenges despite how obviously a no-brainer our goal may seem to any thoughtful, concerned citizen. Why is it so difficult for Bucks County to achieve?
A lack of understanding by the public and government officials that we even have a problem.
An inadequate sense of urgency about the vulnerability of our elections, especially among some officials at all levels of government. This should be a top priority.
Even if the first two challenges are overcome, the biggest problem (or excuse) we hear is that there is no funding to replace our voting system.
There are a few challenges we face:
We all need to educate everyone we can about this issue.
This is our core mission and where we need your help--to spread the message about how crucial this is for Bucks County citizens! Sharing this website, our Facebook page, and tweeting the ideas here are some ways. Talking with people one-on-one, attending and bringing friends to our meetings/events (or help plan events), passing out our printed materials (contact us about getting some)--these all are very important. Check out our How You Can Help page for more!
The urgency of this situation is an integral part of the message that our elections are vulnerable. This was already true a dozen years ago when we first got our unverifiable system--no audits or recounts possible! This should never have happened to begin with. But it's obvious, we are overdue for correcting the situation, we should not have to wait any longer.
Funding for a new voting system is a challenge.
According to this report, this is a huge problem for many jurisdictions all over the country. Voting systems purchased after HAVA over 10 years ago are aging out and need to be replaced. The 20% of the country who never wised up over the years and still have DREs are in the worst position--we are the most vulnerable. Our state is one of the worst: 17 Pennsylvania counties already use a VMPB system, but 50 counties (83% of PA voters) use DREs—a shameful swing state record!
In the wake of revelations that our elections are more at risk than the nation realized, some federal legislation is being proposed to provide more funding and support to states but may take too long to be implemented before the 2018 election. We have seen no efforts in the PA government yet for any relief, even as there is an awareness this is a big problem in our state. A Pennsylvania government task force recently issued a report, "Voting Technology in Pennsylvania," recommending that PA legislators allocate funds to help counties get new systems, but no bills are on the horizon. Go to bottom half of Legislation page for more info.
So how much funding would Bucks County need?
This is an oft-asked question and is difficult to answer with any precision. Voting system vendors don't just post their prices on a website. Complicated contracts are worked out with jurisdictions of every size (from entire states to small counties) and varying complexity, to satisfy different needs. Everything is negotiated case-by-case, so trying to estimate costs for our situation is comparing apples to oranges to kiwis.
That being said, we have tried to figure out a ballpark cost. Bids requested by jurisdictions from vendors, plus some actual contracts, were located online. We felt that studying those may help give us some idea for the initial cost to purchase the equipment, at least.
ES & S voting system contracts/bids in 2016 - 2017 for the state of Michigan and New York State suggests a cost of one DS200 precinct scanner and one BMD (ballot marker for disabled) averages about $9000 per precinct. A recent report on the range of costs paid by different jurisdictions is now availble here. Purchasing 5 privacy voting booths per precinct averaging $150 each adds $750 per precinct.
So the best we can estimate for an initial purchase of voting machines and privacy voting booths for Bucks County's 304 precincts (including ordering some spares) may be around $3 - 3.5 million.
Yearly maintenance agreements, software and other contract expenses varied too much to give us a handle on what Bucks County would pay beyond the equipment purchase. Even those costs were hard to determine because sometimes they were listed bundled with other yearly expenses.
We must tackle the inadequate sense of urgency about the vulnerability of our elections shown by our Bucks County commissioners, who are responsible for choosing and purchasing our voting system. When I explained again the need for a VMPB system, I was told, “There’s no money for it.” When the Bucks County preliminary 2018 budget showed a nearly $18 million shortfall, some commissioners were prepared to use $10 million out of the $40 million general (surplus) fund to close part of the gap. They instead scrambled and shaved off over $7 million in expenses and proposed a small tax increase to raise the rest, leaving the general fund intact.