RELEASE ANNOUNCING PRESS CONFERENCE
December 28, 2005 -- Citizens of Westmoreland, Allegheny, Butler, Washington, Beaver, Mercer, and other Western Pennsylvania counties will announce the formation of 10-County Citizens' Coalition For Voter Verified Paper Ballots at a press conference tomorrow, December 29, 2005 in the Westmoreland County Courthouse Square. The event is open to the public and will begin immediately after the Westmoreland County Commissioners meeting.
The press conference and formation of the group is in response to a reported "10-County Coalition" of Western Pennsylvania election directors and county officials formed to purchase electronic voting machines with money available under the Help America Vote Act. The citizens' group wants to be sure that the money is spent wisely, and that any voting system chosen in any county has the ability to produce a high-quality, human readable and recountable voter verified paper record or ballot.
"Voters and pollworkers, who will be most affected by the purchase of these systems, have been completely left out of the process in many of our counties," says Marybeth Kuznik, Westmoreland County Inspector of Elections and Founder of the grassroots alliance VotePA. "For example, in my own county a decision has apparently been made with no public display of machines, no public hearing, and no opportunity for any input from the average voter. In the meantime, taxpayer dollars have been spent for many months on a high-priced private consultant from Virginia to advise our Election Director and County Commissioners as to what voting machine we should be using. Something is just not right with this picture."
Kuznik, who served as one of the nine regional coordinators for the Green Party Recount of the 2004 presidential vote in Ohio, has been traveling all over the United States to speak about the need for voter verified paper ballots with audits of all elections, and how people can help the process as the new HAVA-compliant voting systems come into use by serving as pollworkers.
"In all my travels, as I have met people from counties and states that have endured horrible election problems, I have always felt secure and proud that my own Westmoreland County had a strong Election Office and a great system. Now, with the announcement that our Commissioners have chosen one of the very systems with this long history of producing many of the nationwide problems, I feel as if a rug has been kicked out from under me."
Activists in other Western Pennsylvania counties agree and have taken a strong stance to urge their own County Commissioners to proceed with caution. Citizens in Beaver and Mercer counties joined forces earlier this year to call for the decertification of the UniLect Patriot, a touchscreen which lost an estimated 10,000 votes in the November, 2004 election. Voters in Butler County recently called for the formation of a Citizens' Advisory Council, and in November hundreds of people turned out for the Allegheny County Voting Machine Fair in Pittsburgh, with several dozen speaking at a County Council hearing to urge that voters be able to verify their choices on paper.
Both Allegheny County Council and Pittsburgh's City Council have passed motions or resolutions in support of voter verified paper records with audits and for the bills HB 2000 / SB 977 currently pending in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The identical bills would require all voting systems in the state to produce a voter verified paper record or ballot, would make that paper the official record in case of discrepancy, audit or recount, and would require a 5% random audit of all elections. The bills have bi-partisan support with over a quarter of the PA House and Senate already signed on as co-sponsors.
In the meantime, groups such as VotePA and the new 10-County Citizens Coalition forge ahead, with more member groups and individuals becoming involved almost daily.
"People died for our right to vote," says Kuznik, "Our vote is the core of our democracy. In the wake of several problematic elections our citizens are becoming more and more proactive with these new machines. The days of expecting us to vote on whatever the counties choose to put in front of us are over. We are paying attention."