Community members lined up to test out new voting machines during a series of free demonstrations held in the Overbrook and Wynnefield neighborhoods between Sept. 12 and Oct. 4, 2019.
The voting machine change comes after Gov. Tom Wolf enacted Senate Bill 48, which requires all counties in Pennsylvania to have a verifiable paper-trail for each voter.
“To me, a lot of people don’t know, so it really was basically to educate the people,” said Gwen Fortt, a legislative assistant for state representative Morgan Cephas of the 192nd legislative district, who helped run the demonstrations. “We have to teach our people because if we don’t teach them, they will never know.”
The voting machine demonstrations were sponsored by Rep. Cephas and her staff. They worked with the Philadelphia City Commissioner’s office to bring the machines out to Overbrook and Wynnefield for six free demonstrations.
Fortt mentioned that her family taught her the importance of voting from an early age.
“My father and my grandfather, they voted,” she said. “Because I was brought up in a place that you should vote I learned that it’s my right.”
The City Commissioner’s office will implement user-friendly touch screen voting machines in the upcoming November elections and future elections. The machines print out a paper version of a vote with a bar code but will not have the voter’s name. The machines also are not connected to the internet, so voters do not have to worry about votes being interfered with through computer hacking.
“Our neighborhood is filled with a lot of seniors, so that kind of stuff is really important,” said community activist Gregory Allen, founder of Overbrook West Neighbors. “And that’s just some of the things we want to do for people.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has called on all state and local election officials to make sure by the 2020 presidential election, everyone votes on a system that produces a paper record.
“They’re doing it now in preparation for the November election in 2019, but they’re also going to do it again in the spring in preparation for the 2020 national election,” Allen said.
The machines are called ExpressVote XL and are manufactured by Election Systems and Software (ES&S).
The new voting machines have 32-inch-wide touch screens, a backup power battery, and privacy curtains. Voters will be able to verify their ballot with a printed copy from the machine. There is also a ballot container secured with locks and seals.
The machines also have several ease-of-access features. Voters can increase the text size on the screen if they cannot see what is on the screen, roll a wheelchair into a secure spot under the machine, request brail or headsets if they are hard of hearing, and choose between English and Spanish language options. For other languages, the judge at a voting area can call a 1-800 number to get in contact with a translator.
“A lot of people, they say, ‘Thank you for showing me. This is not as bad as I thought it was,’” Fortt said about attendees.
The machines also have a feature that enables voters to choose a straight-ticket. For example, if a voter chooses a straight party ticket, then the machine will automatically select all of the party candidates for each office. The machines also let voters type in the name of a candidate if they choose to write one in.
If a voter chooses a candidate they do not want to vote for by mistake, the machine can let them change their vote before submitting.
Patricia Bell, a community member who attended one of the meetings, hopes voting through the new machines will be easier once the elections roll around.
“We have to accept change,” Bell said. “It’s gonna change, so we have to accept it. We gotta do what we gotta do. Hopefully, it’s not as confusing as it looks right now. Hopefully, there will be someone to assist us and, especially, our elder members.”
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