CLARION – Clarion County Commissioners Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley offered reactions Tuesday morning on Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a Senate Bill that would have provided some funding for mandated new voting machines.
After the board meeting, Gov. Wolf issued a news release stating that a bond issue could be used to provide funding.
Heasley said that projected costs for Clarion County are between $500,000 and $700,000.
“We’re disappointed about not receiving the funding,” said Heasley. “We were looking forward to the 60 percent reimbursement so we could proceed knowing how much we were or were not going to have. Otherwise the taxpayers of Clarion County would have to pay for it. The House approved funding and the Senate added things to the bill and obviously the governor was not satisfied, and he vetoed it. We’re hopeful that within the next few days or weeks we’ll have a plan to fund this. If not, we’re prepared to lease or purchase the machines and have the funds available. We’re just hopeful it doesn’t end up being similar to another state unfunded mandate.”
Brosius also questioned the decision and hinted at politics involved.
“From my understanding the two main reasons why he vetoed it was because he was not in favor of getting rid of the straight party vote in Pennsylvania. There are only eight states left that still do straight party voting. The statement was that doing away with the straight party voting will decrease voter participation in the election.
“In my opinion, that’s a cop out because [you’re] pushing one button to vote for maybe a dozen or more races without even looking at those races. How is that increasing voter participation when you don’t even know who you’re voting for or what office? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think he [Wolf] thinks the straight party vote benefits his party. Why not vote for what is best for the Commonwealth. Instead, we’re not getting any money, but they could still work something out.”
Janice Horn of the Clarion County League of Women Voters questioned the status of a review of possible new voting machines because they are required no matter what funding is available. Heasley said that the current appointed Election Board can make recommendations, but no decision is likely until after the fall election.
The late-breaking news release from the Governor stated:
“Governor Tom Wolf announced today the commonwealth will begin work to issue a bond that will assist counties with purchasing new voting systems with a paper trail. The new systems have enhanced security to help guard against hacking and produce an anonymous paper record so voters can verify their choices are correctly marked before casting their ballot. Paper records also allow officials to conduct the most accurate recounts and audits of election results.”
“Pennsylvania counties are well on their way to replacing their voting systems and I applaud their tremendous commitment to protecting our elections,” said Governor Wolf. “I remain committed to supporting their efforts and this funding will help the counties to complete that process.”
Under the arrangement, according to the release, the commonwealth would fund up to $90 million to reimburse counties for 60 percent of their actual costs to replace voting systems. The Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority (PEDFA) may issue bonds, and the Department of State would make grants available to counties.
“The Department of State will offer counties that use older models of hand-marked paper ballot voting systems an opportunity to request an extension until June 2021 to select new voting infrastructure,” the release states, noting however that there will be a financial incentive for implementing on the current schedule — counties that implement new voting systems by the 2020 primary as directed by the Department will receive their full share of all available federal and state funds.
“The provision of funding from the commonwealth, coupled with funds already received from the federal government, will significantly reduce the need for use of local property tax dollars,” added Douglas E. Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. “The collaboration and care of all involved, who take the privilege of voting to heart, is most appreciated.”
In other news from the commissioners, Marcellus funding to Clarion County is increasing.
Clarion County received a check last week for $158,572.64 related to Marcellus activity in Clarion County.
The total amount includes Legacy, $40,227.57; Stripper Wells, $35,289.73; and Marcellus Shale, $83,055.34.
Clarion County also received Marcellus Bridge money. The county received $57,023.49 in 2018, $46,189.87 in 2017 and $51,849.14 in 2016.
Chief Clerk Taylor Best noted the regular Marcellus Shale money from the three prior years included: 2018, $74,237.85; 2017, $46,848.96; and 2016, $57,504.96. This year marked the first for Stripper Wells funding.
In Other Business:
• Commissioners approved Resolution Number 17, an application for a Multi-Modal Transportation Grant related to the Glassworks Business Park at the site of the former Owens-Illinois Glass plant.
“They applied earlier and were told by DCED to scale back from their original proposal,” said Clarion County Planner Kristi Amato. “This grant centers on Grand Avenue and will include several improvements on it such as widening the street, a bike lane, sidewalks, and would also deal with a stormwater issue and street lighting. They are also talking about a bus stop near Eagle Park.”
• Commissioners also approved a letter of support for Sligo Borough’s application for a DCED Multimodal Transportation Grant. The grant would replace a damaged footbridge connecting Sligo Borough with Sligo Elementary School and the COG pool-park. Sligo Borough has applied twice to PennDOT for the project. The footbridge was closed a few years ago at the start of school when deficiencies were noted. A floor covering for the footbridge was installed as a makeshift solution.