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Pa.’s voter registration and election management system is ready for 2024, Schmidt tells lawmakers

Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt speaks Wednesday, March 27, 2024, at a House State Government Committee hearing on the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors, Pennsylvania’s voter registration and election management system. (Credit: Peter Hall/ Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 27, 2024

Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt told lawmakers Wednesday he is confident that Pennsylvania’s elections in 2024 will be “free, fair, safe, and secure,” despite the delay of a next-generation system to manage voter registration and election results.

Schmidt said assessing the progress of a company hired to develop the new system was among his top priorities upon joining Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration in January 2023. By the end of the year it was apparent that the vendor would not meet the state’s standards or timeline.

To avoid debuting the new system in a presidential election year, the state canceled its contract in December at a cost of about $1.5 million that had been paid during the previous Wolf administration. The company agreed to return about $720,000.

The department entered the $10.7 million contract with South Dakota based election software maker BPro in December 2020. BPro was acquired a few days later by St. Louis-based KNOWiNK, which took over the contract. 

“You can ask any of your election directors … whether they would want to interface with a new election management system during a presidential election cycle,” Schmidt told members of the House State Government Committee. ”It was the right and easy decision to make.”

Since then, the department has taken steps to ensure the reliability of the existing Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) by installing new computer hardware in every county election office and is in the process of upgrading connectivity between the county and state offices.

Schmidt said the department is in the process of issuing a new request for proposals for an updated SURE system, which it hopes to issue later this spring and award a contract this summer.

Several members of the committee questioned Schmidt about the findings of a 2019 audit of SURE and 50 recommendations from former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s office.

“We’re trying to understand what has actually been done and what still remains to be done,” Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York) said, noting that the most pressing finding was the need for guidance to counties on maintaining accurate voter records. 

The included instances of the same driver’s license number used for more than one voter record, potential duplicate records, date of birth errors and potentially deceased voters.

Schmidt said the department issues procedures for maintaining voter registration lists to remove dead or inactive voters and tracks whether the maintenance has been completed. 

And Pennsylvania is a member of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which allows states to share information about voters who have moved from one state to another and died. 

Under Pennsylvania law, however, counties may only remove a deceased voter from their lists if they are notified of the death by the state Department of Health or by manually scanning obituaries.

“There’s information that we can have access to that is reliable with all personal identifiable information nationally for deceased voters, but we can’t at present allow our counties to cancel them,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said legislation giving counties a timeframe in which voter list maintenance must be completed would also aid the department in ensuring that it is completed.

“There’s a big difference between knowing what you have to do and knowing you have to do it by a certain time,” Schmidt said.

The 2019 audit served as a guide to developing the request for proposals for the second attempt at developing an update for SURE. It will be more explicit about security measures and deadlines to ensure the process does not stretch from months to years.

“And the next thing you know, it’s the presidential election. So there’s a lot of lessons learned from that,” Schmidt said.

The department has engaged the services of Gartner, a leading research and consulting service for the IT sector, to assist with writing the new RFP, which will be issued this spring, a department spokesperson told the Capital-Star. 

Additionally, DOS has hired a chief modernization officer who is working closely with Gartner to develop a new RFP that more clearly defines the Department’s and the Commonwealth’s priorities and standards, the spokesperson said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.