Armstrong voting machines

ARMSTRONG COUNTY DIRECTOR of Elections Jennifer Bellas (left) shows Commissioner Pat Fabian (right, center) and local poll workers how to insert completed paper ballots into the new optical scanner machine during a demonstration at the Distant Fire Hall on Sept. 10. The new voting equipment will be utilized for the first time county-wide for the general election this November.

DISTANT – Armstrong County voters and election officials got their first look at the new voting machines that will make their debut in the 2019 General Election this November.

The demonstration, led by Armstrong County director of elections Jennifer Bellas, was held at the Distant Fire Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The machines, distributed by Dominion Voting Systems of Denver, Colo., come at a cost of just under $700,000, which is being covered initially with a bond secured by the county with the hope of partial reimbursement from excess funds through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

“We anticipate some reimbursement,” Bellas said, noting that Gov. Tom Wolf is also working on legislation that, if passed, will bring the county at least half of the cost in reimbursement.

According to Bellas, the county opted to go with a hand-marked paper ballot system with optical scanner. This means that voters will fill in bubbles on the ballots to cast their votes before hand-delivering them to the optical scanner which will read the ballot and photograph any write-in votes.

“It’s just like being in school,” Bellas said of filling out the paper ballots. In regard to the scanners, she noted that the machines will alert poll workers if a ballot registers an over-vote or is otherwise “spoiled,” and are also equipped with an emergency bin and backup power supply in case of emergencies.

In addition, Bellas said, each voting precinct in the county will have an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compatible ballot making device available on site for voters with special needs or those who do not want to vote using paper ballots.

“The biggest change for voters will be the use of paper ballots,” she said, explaining that the voting process as residents know it will remain the same.”The only thing that is changing for the voter is that instead of getting a card to vote like with the other machines they’ll get a piece of paper.”

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In fact, Bellas noted, several other counties in the state — including Indiana County — have been using paper ballots for years.

“It’s not a new concept,” she said. “It’s just new to us [Armstrong County].”

Bellas will be hosting additional voting machine demonstrations beginning at 6 p.m. at the following locations: Leechburg Public Library, Sept. 19; Rural Valley Fire Hall, Sept. 26; Bradys Bend Township Municipal Building, Oct. 1; Rayburn Township Fire Hall, Oct. 3; and Worthington-West Franklin Fire Hall, Oct. 16.

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