With millions of customers in multiple states out of electricity following Superstorm Sandy, VotesPA is asking how electronic voting machines will operate in the event some polling places in Pennsylvania and other states do not have power restored in time for next Tuesday’s Presidential Election.
VotePA today announced a warning that, should this become a problem next week, the answer is not to rely on batteries to run voting machines for all or even a substantial part of Election Day.
VotePA is a statewide alliance dedicated to voting rights and election integrity. The grassroots citizen group counts registered voters of five different political parties and non-partisan voters among its membership, “united by belief in the right of every eligible citizen to vote for candidates of his or her choice and to have every vote counted accurately.”
VotePA Executive Director Marybeth Kuznik says that “officials in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, other states affected by Sandy have been quoted in the press as saying that batteries could potentially run their equipment through the day”
“Depending on aging batteries to allow voting for any extended length of time would be incredibly foolish during an important national and statewide election.”
Kuznik, who is a 20-year District Election Board member and has observed nearly two dozen voting system examinations by the Pennsylvania Department of State, explained that vendors supply voting machines with ‘backup’ batteries to protect the memory and allow short periods of casting ballots in event of a power outage during a voting day.
According to Kuznik, these batteries “are not generally designed to run the machine for hours and hours, and certainly not for an entire election.”
Kuznik went on to explain that voting machine batteries lose the ability to hold a full charge as they age, just like batteries in cell phones and laptop computers.
“Even so-called ‘new’ batteries that have been sitting on a shelf for several years may not hold as much charge as they did when they were first manufactured,” said Kuznik.
With voting machines purchased by counties under the Help America Vote Act now in their seventh year of use, and some counties’ equipment even older, VotesPA is warning that battery capacity could potentially be far less than what is expected.
“VotePA strongly urges any county that has polling places without power to obtain a generator to run the voting machines, and/or to consider using paper ballots,” Kuznik said. “Do not rely on these voting machine batteries for any extended period of time.”
VotesPA also pointed out that in addition to power for the voting machines, with the shorter daylight hours of November, lighting in the polling places will also be needed.
“While Pennsylvania still has a 1937 law on its books requiring a lantern to illuminate polling places, electric lights are obviously much better,” Kuznik added, pointing Keystone Politics to PA Election Code 25 P.S. § 3012 (c)(1), which states the following:
( c) The county election board shall furnish, at the expense of the county, and deliver with each voting machine:
- 1. A lantern, or a proper substitute for one, which shall give sufficient light to enable voters, while in the voting machine booth, to read the ballot labels, and suitable for the use of election officers in examining the counters. The lantern, or proper substitute therefor, shall be prepared and in good order for use before the opening of the polls.
Unsurprisingly, that Act was approved way back in 1937.
Kuznik added that “a safely-operated generator providing power to both the voting machines and electric lights will be a much stronger choice than relying on batteries.”
“The most important thing is for voters to come out and vote,” she said. “Don’t let a storm like Sandy or anything else deny you your voice in our democracy.”