Paper ballots raise privacy concerns as more new election machines will roll out in 2020

Some voters expressed concern about privacy issues at the polls as paper ballots and new election machines were introduced Tuesday in multiple counties across Pennsylvania.

Newly-elected York County Commissioner, Republican Ronald Smith admitted he heard concerns from voters at one polling place he visited at a church. "It is extremely close in there and you have all these people and your right to privacy is not there," said Smith. Smith added, he noted the same issues at his precinct. "When you walk around the scanner, you're walking past people who are filling out their documents," he said.

FOX43 asked political science expert Associate Professor Nick Anspach of York College of Pennsylvania about what voters' rights are when it comes to casting their votes.

"When we had the touch screens, there was nobody around to see what you were casting," Anspach said.

"In the Pennsylvania constitution, it promises complete secrecy when it comes to casting your vote," said Anspach. He added, "the secrecy of the paper ballot shouldn't just apply to other voters, but also poll workers don't have the right to see how your votes are cast." But, Anspach noted, poll workers are allowed to ask questions to help facilitate the process.

York County is just one of 45 counties that implemented new voting systems this year. York County President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said she too noticed "there wasn't a whole lot of privacy" when she cast her ballot. But, she said, "absolutely we will be addressing that."

Byrnes said one option some are proposing is to move polling places to more schools.

Meantime, Anspach notes, "part of me is glad though that we tried this now in the 2019 election before 2020 so any of the kinks that appear are in an election where there's not a huge turnout."

Anspach reminds all voters that if anyone experienced problems at the polls, formal complaints can be issued to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The PA Department of State issued this statement regarding Tuesday's election:

"On Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters went to the polls and the overwhelming majority of them cast their ballots with no problems. In 45 counties, new voting systems were in use, and in the vast majority of them, the voters and poll workers reported a very good election experience.

That said, York County officials have acknowledged issues in a few of their polling places, due in part to an insufficient number of scanners and also to a ballot printing error that affected a handful of precincts. We will continue to work with the county regarding their plans to address the issues.

We have been notified that York County and the Republican Party of Pennsylvania have entered into an agreement, filed in York County Court of Common Pleas, that outlines the procedure for counting some ballots from two precincts that were not scanned at the polling place.

Likewise, we are also working with Northampton County and its voting system vendor to identify and remedy the underlying cause of an election returns reporting issue that came to light after the polls closed.

In both cases, voters should know that there is no problem with the paper ballots that they cast. These situations underscore the importance and value of our 2018 decision to move to all paper-record voting systems, which are capable of post-election audits and recounts using records that voters verified themselves.

As we look to the 2020 election year, we will continue our close collaboration and communications with the counties so that all may learn from the experiences of one another. We plan to reinforce with the counties the need to plan effectively the appropriate amount of voting equipment and expanded poll worker training. We also will focus our efforts on educating voters about the new voting systems, as well as the significant election reforms that Gov Wolf recently signed into law."

- Wanda Murren, Director, Office of Communications and Press, PA Department of State

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