Washington County elections going paperless after today

May 20, 2013
Elections office technician Troy Breese, right, instructs at Courthouse Square, from left, Lisa Fisher, Charles Elliott and Frank Malie, who will be working polls at Washington High School and Citizens Library. Polls open at 7 a.m. today. Voting continues through 8 p.m.

Goodbye, ink pen. Hello, stylus.

Between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. today, those who vote in Washington County will be using paper for the last time.

Lest you think the election-day process has been paperless since the county got rid of its punch cards, that covers just one phase of voting.

Touch-screen voting machines have been in use here since 2006, but on the next election day Nov. 5, paper lists of registered voters, known as “poll books,” will be replaced with electronic versions and computer software that allow the county to load digital registration records.

A poll book, prepared for each of Washington County’s 184 voting precincts, is the voluminous list of registered voters, their addresses, their party affiliation or independent-of-party status and dates of birth, if available. In their first expenditure from the Marcellus Shale impact fee, the Washington County commissioners at the beginning of the year decided to devote more than $225,000 to electronic poll books from Electronic Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb.

Washington County Elections Director Larry Spahr received permission from the Pennsylvania Department of State to use $159,646 in federal tax dollars from the Help America Vote Act. The money was left over from the county’s purchase of touch-screen voting machines. “States like Georgia and Maryland require the use of electronic poll books in every county,” Spahr said. “They say they’ve had great success with them.”

Bradford County in Pennsylvania began using 20 electronic poll books in November 2010.

One aspect of voting that won’t be going paperless anytime soon involves the absentee ballot. Unless the state begins to allow civilians to vote over the internet, which is highly unlikely for now, absentee ballots will continue to be paper.

In addition to a host of school board, council and township supervisor offices, Republicans and Democrats will be nominating a candidate for state Superior Court. Republican Victor P. Stabile is running unopposed while Democrats will choose between Joseph C. Waters Jr. and Jack McVay.

In Washington County, voters in each party will nominate two candidates to fill vacancies created by the retirements of judges Paul Pozonsky and Janet Moschetta Bell. The candidates, all of whom have cross-filed, are Alan Benyak, Blane Black, Valarie Costanzo, Thomas Fallert, Charles E. Kurowksi, Michael Lucas, Peter V. Marcoline III and Lane Turturice.

County row office incumbents, all Democrats, are guaranteed a nomination because all are running unopposed. Only one Republican filed for a row office try, Angela Carrier, who will be squaring off against county Controller Michael Namie in November. A Republican will be trying for a write-in nomination against Recorder of Deeds Debbie Bardella. No Republican has surfaced to run against Sheriff Samuel Romano.

Incumbent district judges are running unopposed, and all have cross-filed. Candidates are Larry W. Hopkins, whose district includes Allenport, Charleroi, Dunlevy, Elco, Fallowfield, North Charleroi, Roscoe, Speers, Stockdale and Twilight; David W. Mark, whose district includes Canton, Canonsburg, Chartiers and Houston; and Joshua P. Kanalis, whose district includes California, Centerville, Coal Center, East Bethlehem, Long Branch and West Brownsville.

In Greene County, the only contested countywide race is sheriff, where Democrats Bryan Tennant, Erik Ketchem and William Lewis Jr. are running to fill the seat to be vacated at the end of the year by the retirement of incumbent Sheriff Richard Ketchem.

No Republican filed for the position.

Greene County Democratic incumbent Coroner Gregory Rohanna is running unopposed on both tickets, and no one is challenging incumbent District Judge Lee Watson of Carmichaels for another term.

All county offices, with the exception of the elections office and elections court, will be closed today.

If questions arise regarding a voter’s eligibility, provisional ballots will be available at all polling locations. All provisional ballots will then be examined by county election officials to determine if the individual voting that ballot was entitled to vote at the election district in the election.

Everyone voting in person on May 21 will be asked, but will not be required, to show approved photo identification in order to cast their ballot.

Those voting in person for the first time on May 21 will be required to show approved forms of either photo or non-photo identification. This is a requirement of the federal Help America Vote Act passed in 2004. For any problems, questions, or concerns on election day, the Washington County elections office phone number is 724-228-6750.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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