County prepares for new voting machine mandate

LEWISTOWN–The Mifflin County Commissioners are reluctantly preparing for a state mandate requiring all 67 Pennsylvania counties to purchase new voting equipment that will enable a “paper trail” to be in place to combat fraud prior to the May 2020 primary election.

During Thursday’s business meeting, Zane Swanger, director of elections and voter registration, provided an update regarding a measure that will de-certify current voting machines in preparation of the purchase of new ones. Swanger said he is one of only two election directors that have been invited to testify at a public hearing on the matter March 26 in the Senate chamber in Harrisburg.

“Last week, I was contacted to be invited to testify before the state government committee’s upcoming public hearing to discuss Senate Bill 48, which is being introduced to reform the election code in the matters of voting system de-certification,” Swanger said. “This, of course, stems from the current situation we face after Governor Wolf issued a directive for all counties to replace their existing voting systems ahead of the 2020 presidential primary. In short, the directive requires all counties, regardless if they already use a federal and state certified verifiable paper ballot system, such as we do in Mifflin County, to purchase and implement new equipment.”

Commissioner Stephen Dunkle, already on record as saying he does not support the mandate, then stated, “I’d like everybody in this room to remember the name Jill Stein. She was the Green Party candidate for president in 2016 and she received less than 1 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania. She took the commonwealth to court on issues pertaining to the balloting process in Pennsylvania. After negotiations, a court settlement was reached, which mandated every county install new voting equipment with the explicit purpose of having a paper trail that could

be audited if any discrepancies are reported.

“What’s pathetic about this is making counties, including Mifflin, that already have a paper trail that can’t be hacked by the Russians, Ethopians and anybody else, do this. This is an example of government gone mad by forcing us to outlay a substantial amount of money to buy new equipment.

“This is government flatulence at its worst. Mifflin County has the lowest per capita income than any county in the state. Yet, we are going to have to potentially raise taxes to do this. The governor says he has pledged some money but not guaranteed in the next five years. How can he pledge that in five years when he’s no longer in office? The state has lost its direction when we have to provide a large amount of money to do what we already can.”

Commissioner Kevin Kodish agreed with Dunkle’s assessment, noting, “Mifflin County has done due diligence in regard to updating its voting machines. It’s ridiculous to have a mandate like that. It’s solving a problem that doesn’t exist here.”

Also during his presentation, Swanger said with all three current commissioners running for office, at both countywide and township levels, the president judge has signed orders replacing the current board of elections with the following newly-appointed members: Rebecca Ganoe, James Letierre and Aaron Felker. Swanger said the board meets monthly on an “as needed” basis to cover any election-related business.

Swanger said the board of elections held casting of ballots on Wednesday to determine ballot positions for contested races in the upcoming May 21 primary election. The selection is currently available for public inspection in the election office and will soon be posted to the Mifflin County Election/Voter Registration section of the county’s website.

Also different this year, Swanger said on May 21, a special election will also be held for representative in Congress in the 12th District.

“Though the primary is for Republican and Democratic registered voters to participate in, there will be a separate ballot for other party/no-affiliate registered voters to participate in the special election,” Swanger said. “In clarity, all registered voters in Mifflin County will be able to vote on May 21, though ballot styles will vary. Voters who are not registered Republican or Democrats will be issued a ballot solely containing the race for the special election.”

In other business Thursday, the commissioners:

¯ Heard a brief presentation from Carol King, partnership specialist with the U.S. Department of Census, who reminded those in attendance the the government will be taking its next census during calendar year 2020. She said her message consisted of three parts: the census is required and easy; the census is safe; and the census is important in that it determines the number of seats in the House of Representatives the state gets as well as funding levels for necessities like fire departments and infrastructure.

¯ Adopted a resolution “Stepping up to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in correctional facilities.” The resolution points out that serious mental illnesses in jails is six times higher than for the general public and adults with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and, upon release, are at a higher risk of recidivism than those without these disorders. Kodish said the county is collaborating with local and state agencies to help inmates with mental illnesses.

¯ Adopted a resolution increasing the county’s indebtedness by the issuance of a general obligation note in the amount of $1,589,000 to be used for repair and construction of various structurally deficient bridges in the county. Commissioner Rob Postal said the county’s $5 tax on motor vehicle ownership will be used to pay back the loan. “This program matches money being provided by PennDOT to go toward repairs and construction of structurally deficient bridges in the various municipalities,” Postal said. Kodish added, “This is a critical program. Local municipalities don’t have the funds to do these things. They’ll only have to pay 10 percent of project costs. This is not general fund money. We will use the local use money to pay this back.”

¯ Approved a purchase of service agreement for use, if needed, by Children & Youth with Clear Vision Residential Treatment Services Inc. of Montgomery, PA, a group home for girls age 13 to 19 with alcohol abuse problems.

¯ Approved an agreement with IMR Digital to scan commissioners’ meeting minute books dating back to the county’s inception.

¯ Approved a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Multi-Party Data Sharing agreement which is geared to allow the county’s GIS Department share data with other counties and state agencies.

¯ Approved receipt of the Victims of Crime Act grant for the period July 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2020 in the amount of $47,541.

¯ Approved the following proposals from J-Way Architectural: $4,900 for assistance with the correctional facility roof replacement bidding process; $5,800 to provide mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection engineering assessment of the annex building; $6,985 for annex building concept civil/site assessment; and $7,050 for annex building boundary and topographic/location survey.

¯ Approved a five-year copier lease agreement with DeLage Landen Public Finance at a cost of $1,542.61 per month, a savings of roughly $2,000 a month from previous agreements.

¯ Approved a resolution authorizing the application for the Community Conservation Partnerships Program grant funds through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. County Planning Director Bill Gomes said the grant application is the next step in beginning phase 2 of the Juniata River Walking Trail project.

¯ Approved the hiring of Holly Yeager as a part-time tax services clerk effective March 13.

¯ Approved the hiring of Pamela Powell as a part-time tax services clerk effective March 15.

¯ Approved the hiring of Dakotah Roe and Todd Stewart as part-time corrections officers effective March 25.

¯ Accepted the resignation of Ashley Baxter as Children & Youth supervisor effective March 29.

¯ Accepted the resignation of Darrell Campbell, corrections officer, effective March 29.

¯ Approved the hiring of Douglas Zimmerman as a part-time buildings and grounds assistant effective April 2.

¯ Accepted the resignation of Susan Earp from tipstaff effective April 1.