An Allegheny County election integrity coalition won’t get a ballot question but is still pushing for new laws

Their aim is to get Allegheny County Council to create a commission to review voting machines.

Students wait to vote in November 2016 at CMU.

Students wait to vote in November 2016 at CMU.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated 5:12 p.m.

A referendum effort to get a question about election integrity on the November ballot may have failed, but the coalition behind it still plans to lobby the Allegheny County Council to pass legislation.

A coalition of groups including Don’t Tread on My Vote and VoteAllegheny plan to rally at the City-County building at 4 p.m. today and attend the 5 p.m. meeting of county council. As the activists previously explained to the Post-Gazette, their main aim is to get the county to create a commission to review voting machines and eventually have them replaced with ones that leave a paper trail.

Michelle Zuckerman-Parker of Don’t Tread on My Vote told The Incline that the coalition — which also includes the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, the Black Political Empowerment Project, John Welch’s campaign for mayor and — collected more than 6,500 signatures for the referendum. It would have asked:

Shall a County Ordinance be enacted to amend Part 12, Government Review, of Allegheny County‘s Administrative Code, adding Article 1205, Voting Process Review Commission, to have the current and potential voting systems evaluated for: security; usability by the elderly and disabled; use of voter-verifiable, auditable, recountable paper records; capital/operating costs; support services available, etc. – and – if found necessary, to have the optimum replacement system designated, followed by a referendum to approve its acquisition?

To get a referendum on the ballot in Allegheny County, groups need signatures from at least “5 percent of the number of registered voters in the County voting for the Office of Governor in the most recent gubernatorial general election.” (Yes, really.) With 356,098 ballots cast for governor during the November 2014 general election, that means just over 17,800 signatures are needed.

With the referendum effort done, the coalition now plans to focus on lobbying county council to pass a 16-page ordinance it drafted or similar legislation.

“County Council and the Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald should pass this ordinance or others which have been proposed, because such action goes a long way to protecting the integrity of our vote,” the coalition said in a press release. “They should pass it because large numbers of people want it, and exceedingly few oppose it.”

The coalition tried to force county council to consider its ordinance by collecting the 500 signatures needed to get an item on a meeting agenda.

But according to Ron Bandes of VoteAllegheny, the county “rejected the ordinance we wanted to discuss, saying it’s legally insufficient.” He added that “there’s an appeal in process.”

The coalition successfully petitioned Pittsburgh City Council to hold a public hearing Aug. 30 on voting machines. Bandes said state law allows for municipalities like Pittsburgh to “tell the county what voting machines they want,” as long as the machine has been approved by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

The 2016 effect

Following the November 2016 election, local voters concerned about vote tampering (with an assist from Jill Stein) petitioned the county to recanvass voting machines and conduct a “forensic analysis of the software and media inside the machines, to determine whether the machines have been hacked or tampered with.”

The county granted part of that request and conducted a recanvass that yielded no change to the election results.

While County Executive Rich Fitzgerald previously told The Incline voters could be confident in the results, he added that “there could possibly be ways in which all machines have some sort of verifiable … paper tracking” in the future.