New voting machines

EASTON, Pa. – Northampton County's voting-machine vendor will report next week on what went wrong during the November election and how it can be fixed.

The ExpressVote XL machines used Nov. 5 led to long lines and frustration at the polls because the touchscreens were too sensitive and the backup paper ballots were hard to read. Election Systems & Software (ES&S), maker of the machines, will be at Northampton County Council's next meeting.

"ES&S was in Northampton County today reviewing our voting systems," County Executive Lamont McClure told the council at its Thursday meeting. "They will come next Thursday and tell you what they found and the fixes."

The next council meeting will be Dec. 12 at 4:30 p.m. at the government center.

McClure and Council President Ronald Heckman have insisted that ES&S identify and fix what went wrong before the next election. The county paid $2.88 million for the machines after Gov. Tom Wolf required systems across Pennsylvania that would thwart hacking and provide a backup paper trail. Despite the problems, McClure has said the election was fair and accurate because the backup worked.

The problem election led to an unlikely duo at Thursday's meeting. Lee Snover, head of the county Republican Party, and Matthew Munsey, chairman of the Northampton Democrats, went before county council together to ask that University of South Carolina Professor Duncan Buell be allowed to examine data from the election and provide free independent analysis.

When Councilwoman Tara Zrinski said somebody must be paying for the work, Snover said Buell's employer, the university, would.

Buell has testified on behalf of Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate for U.S. president. Stein, a Massachusetts resident, sued Pennsylvania after the 2016 election and last month filed a lawsuit opposing the use of ES&S machines in the state.

The Stein connection, with her history of litigation, did not help the party leaders' case. Heckman said the council will review the request but the release of sensitive data to an outsider will be an issue.

McClure was more blunt: "I'm not interested in helping Jill Stein," he said after the meeting.

Stein's litigation over the 2016 election, when she sought recounts in three states, preceded the requirement for new voting machines in Pennsylvania.

2020 Budget

In other business, the council passed McClure's no-tax-increase budget for 2020. The spending plan was presented in October. The county executive said the budget cuts spending, provides money to fight warehouse proliferation and saves open space. McClure has said that the only way to block the construction of more warehouses is to own land.

Gracedale

The administration won a tougher vote over giving Jennifer Stewart-King, administrator of the Gracedale Nursing Home, a $9,413 annual raise to $111,704.

Stewart-King took over at the Lower Nazareth facility in January, when the county took back management of the home from a private contractor.

"I can't support a 9.2% increase for this position when the folks who really do the hard work at Gracedale are getting a third (of that),” Councilman John Cusick said, referring to the 3% raise for most workers at the county home.

"We don't want to lose this person," Councilman William McGee responded.

Stewart-King was hired from within, and he said bringing in a new administrator would cost more.

McClure cited statistics that suggested that Stewart-King, even at the new salary, would be paid less than administrators in comparable jobs.

"I don't think it's fair to say that she has to turn the place around in one year," Councilman Kevin Lott said.

Zrinski added that Cusick's comment about raises could drive a wedge between the administrator and staff.

Councilwoman Lori Vargo Heffner said Stewart-King has made positive changes at Gracedale, and that she is improving a county home that takes on difficult patients that other facilities might reject.

The final vote was 6-3, with McGee, Margaret Ferraro, Heckman, Lott, Vargo Heffner and Zrinski in favor. Cusick, Robert Werner and Matthew Dietz were opposed.

Other News

McClure told the council that the county will get the closed Meadows Bridge in Lower Saucon Township open again. Work on the historic stone structure has been pushed back after changes in statewide funding for roadwork.

"This needs to move forward now," he said. "It's going to get done."

McClure said after the meeting that the changes in road funding have shortchanged the county, which had worked hard to gain something close to equity with Lehigh County in regional long-term funding plans. That work appears to have been a waste of time, he said.

Heckman presented proclamations recognizing the service of Werner and Dietz, who are leaving council after this year. The 4:30 p.m. Dec. 12 meeting will be their last.