Pennsylvania officials defend elections after integrity questioned

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Not a single vote has been cast in any voting machines across the country. Yet, many Americans feel the integrity of the upcoming election has already been, or will be compromised.

Last week, an Associated Press poll indicated that, nationally, 4 in 10 Americans do not have confidence that election votes are counted accurately. Cybersecurity firm Carbon Black also issued a report saying Pennsylvania specifically is vulnerable  due to issues with its voting machines.

When it comes to hacking, however, officials across the state say Pennsylvania is safe.

"I could drop this machine off in the middle of Red Square in Moscow and the Russians couldn't hack into it," boasted Jerry Feaser, the Director of Elections in Dauphin County.

Pennsylvania voting booths are not prone to hacking for one central reason: none of the state's machines are connected to the internet, nor are they connected to one another. As Feaser showed, there is only one place a Pennsylvania voting machine is plugged into, and that's a standard socket in a wall.

"These are the same machines we've had since 1985," Feaser said. "We've never had a question about the machine itself."

Feaser describes his 494 county-wide voting machines as like a Battleship game board. Each vote mark is designated into a number-letter combination, which registers into the machine and prints out a paper trail listing what votes were cast for which candidate. Even if the county's election website is hacked and the numbers are changed, Feaser says any discrepancies can be double-checked on the tape.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes said that the state's election system is not entirely fail proof, but he's confident in its integrity.

"In all the years we've been using this technology there have been no instances of intrusion or hacking in Pennsylvania," Cortes said.

Cortes testified to members of the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to discuss electoral integrity in Pennsylvania.

While Pennsylvania voting machines have been certified at the federal and state level, according to Cortes, other legislators feel that without stronger voter identification laws, there is no way to be certain voter fraud is not taking place.

"Short of not having and 'ID' to vote, there is a possibility this is occurring," said Rep. Jeff Wheeland (R-Lycoming County). Pennsylvania, currently, does not require residents to show proof of identification at a ballot box.

Other state lawmakers are concerned over the potential of voter intimidation at the polls. Specifically, in Philadelphia, where, according to Philadelphia County GOP Chairman Joe DeFelice, Republican election board workers were thrown out of polling places in recent election. DeFelice also said the Republican Party, which is vastly outnumbered by registered Democrats in Philadelphia County, has issues with convincing people to act as poll-watchers in their precincts.

Current legislation, House Bill 29, which is co-sponsored by House Republicans, would allow any registered voter to serve as a poll-watcher in any precinct across the state. Governor Tom Wolf does not approve the bill.

Election officials from Lackawanna and Lehigh Counties who testified at Tuesday's hearing said they did not believe voter integrity would be increased if poll-watchers from outside their counties were able to sit-in on their precincts.