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The new voting machines will start to be used in November and will add paper print-outs to the current electronic voting system.

Credit: Sophia Swidey

Philadelphia city commissioners voted to implement new voting machines that use touch screens instead of hand-marked ballots. The vote, which occurred on Wednesday, means the new machines will be used starting this November.

The new voting machines, however, were met with criticism. City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale argued that the commissioners were biased towards the chosen system: ExpressVote XL from Election Systems & Software. They contended that the process was quickly conducted to prevent oversight and would result in less secure voting, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“It’s frustrating. I think that it goes against the sense of good government and representing the people,” Rhynhart told the Inquirer. “We deserve better.”

Governor Tom Wolf’s Department of State ordered new voting machines in all Pennsylvania counties by the 2020 primaries, providing the impetus for Philadelphia's switch.

Philadelphia has used a direct-recording electronic voting system since 2002, which utilizes a touch screen without a paper record. Wolf’s order required that the new machines provide a paper trail where voters can verify their selections. 

Credit: Son Nguyen

Hacking and possible power outages were some of the most popular critiques against the touch screen system.

The new system uses a combination of both touch screen and paper aspects. Voters make selections on the screen and the machine then prints a paper ballot with both a barcode and a print-out of the voter’s selections.

However, some people advocated for a system where voters mark their selections directly on paper, citing benefits such as immunity from hacking and power surges. Paper ballots would allow votes to be stored until scanners were running again if a power failure occurred.

The new machines have a price of $20 to $27 million in immediate costs, in addition to $1 million in yearly operating costs, the Inquirer reported.