City Commissioners Approve New Voting System for Philadelphia
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City Commissioners Approve New Voting System for Philadelphia

February 20, 2019


Contact: Patrick Christmas
Policy Director
919-423-7281 (c)

City Commissioners Approve New Voting System for Philadelphia
City on track to safeguard 2020 elections, but City officials must address confusion and distrust

The Committee of Seventy is encouraged by the decision made today by the Philadelphia City Commissioners because it ensures that city voters will be using a new and secure election system starting with the November 2019 election. But the Commissioners and other city officials will need to do much more in the next few months to help voters understand why the decision was made and how it will affect their voting experience.

Officials in Philadelphia and other jurisdictions across the state and country have been working feverishly to harden American election infrastructure ahead of the 2020 presidential elections. Security experts are unanimous in their concern that millions of voters are now using vulnerable systems that lack a voter-verifiable ballot and auditable paper trail --- this includes 83% of Pennsylvanians and every Philadelphia voter.

The voting system approved by the Commissioners today meets both the general concerns of security experts and keeps the city on schedule to protect the integrity of its elections as soon as possible. The decision also meets a directive by Governor Wolf ordering all counties to have new, certified systems in place by next year and aligns with recommendations issued last month by the University of Pittsburgh-based Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security. The vote taken by the Commissioners today to approve electronic poll books also offers a leap forward in modernizing other important aspects of the voting process in Philadelphia.

It should be clear that there has been – to this point – no evidence of fraudulent or inappropriate behavior around the voting system selection process in Philadelphia. Seventy applauds the scrutiny brought to bear by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. If, of course, through their efforts or other means, evidence comes to light indicating possible illegal activity, this entire endeavor should be halted and re-examined.

With regard to city procurement, the “best value” procedure used to provide recommended voting system proposals to the City Commissioners is stringent and designed specifically to make decision-making as objective as possible and insulated from outside influence. The law and regulations also require campaign finance and lobbying disclosures from vendors before a city contract can be awarded. Indeed, given Philadelphia’s history of corruption in city contracting, these rules are necessarily strict – assuredly more so than any other county in Pennsylvania. This is why Seventy, after thorough study, supported amending the Home Rule Charter to allow “best value” procurement in 2017.

Still, trust in the new voting system and how it was selected is essential to the overall integrity of our elections. Despite extensive work by the Commissioners, their staff and other officials in the administration in managing a rigorous procurement process over a compressed timeline, that work lacked transparency and opportunities for public education and engagement. Not surprisingly, an unfortunate level of confusion, distrust and controversy has ensued.

It’s not too late, however, to rebuild that trust.

Seventy urges the City Commissioners, working with Law Department officials and others in the administration, to now go above and beyond the standard protocols for making public information around a procurement decision.

This would involve, for example, dedicating a prominent section of to explaining this transition in voting systems, sharing information on the selection process and why the chosen system is the best choice for city voters, and what it will take to implement these systems.

Going forward, it is incumbent on the City Commissioners, as the elected officials responsible for overseeing elections in Philadelphia, to work deliberately and thoughtfully to make sure that voters understand and trust the decision that was made, as it in turns affects their trust in the integrity of the entire voting process.