Eleven weeks before the primary, Allegheny County officials outline a plan for the new election system rollout

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Allegheny County Council member Bethany Hallam (right) asks Jerry Tyskiewicz, director of administrative services (left), and David Voye, manager of the elections division, a question about the new election system rollout at a Board of Elections meeting on Feb. 11, 2020. (Photo by Nicole C. Brambila)

Allegheny County voters came with questions for the Board of Elections on Tuesday — 11 weeks before voters go to the polls for the primary on April 28.

Most of the dozen voters in attendance left feeling fairly satisfied.

“This is a great start,” Juliet Zavon, a Squirrel Hill voter concerned about election integrity, said after the meeting. “We still have many questions.”

The county recently signed a $20 million deal for a new voting system that largely relies on hand-marked paper ballots to comply with a Pennsylvania lawsuit settlement requiring a paper trail ahead of the primary election. 

The change has advocacy groups — the League of Women Voters and the Black Political Empowerment Project, among them — concerned about poll worker training and voter education.

Here’s a quick rundown of what was covered at the meeting:

  • The county is expected to spend $400,000 on an ad blast across radio, TV and print as well as on billboards, in movie theaters and on Port Authority buses to educate voters on the changes ahead of the upcoming primary and general elections.
  • The county uses roughly 6,500 poll workers, including positions that are elected. Those who are interested in volunteering to fill vacancies can apply online.
  • Poll worker training for those who have already been elected or appointed starts March 2 and runs through April 25 at eight locations across the county. Letters to poll workers are expected to start going out next week.
  • In mid-January, the county purged nearly 69,000 voters it found to be inactive, a requirement of federal law.  Assistant County Solicitor Alan J. Opsitnick said the removal satisfied the conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch, which threatened a lawsuit against the county. In December, the auditor general identified 96,830 “stale, but still active, voter records” across the state, including records in Allegheny County.

In addition to the 1,650 scanners for the new paper voting system, the county also purchased:

  •     1,400 high-top tables
  •     5,000 clipboards
  •     15,000 privacy sleeves 
  •     40,000 blue pens
  •     And 1,400 rolls of “I voted stickers.”

The stickers drew claps from the attendees.

Because voters can return mail-in ballots up until the close of polls, election officials say the public should not expect early results.

“We’re not going to know at nine o’clock,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The Board of Elections, which includes Fitzgerald and council members Bethany Hallam and Sam DeMarco, typically only meets two weeks before and 20 days after an election. Fitzgerald, however, called for additional meetings to address voter concerns about the rollout of the new voting system.

Still have questions? 

The county has a website dedicated to answering them: www.alleghenyvotes.com

Correction (2/12/2020): This story previously misstated information about the timeline for voter education expenditures, the application process for poll workers and the county's removal of inactive voters from its voter rolls.

Nicole C. Brambila is the local government reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at 412-515-0072 or nicole@publicsource.org.

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