In the aftermath of the 2000 Presidential election, the eyes of the nation were fixated on the state of Florida whose electoral votes would determine whether Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush would become the next occupant of the White House.
Chaos began on election night when Gore conceded, then un-conceded the election as Bush's margin of victory became slim, and ultimately hotly contested. Faults in Florida's voting systems became readily apparent and introduced terms like "hanging chad" into the political lexicon.
After weeks of legal wrangling, recounts, and media battles the Supreme Court of the United States finally issued a ruling upholding a final count favoring Bush. Bush took the oath of office, but the bitter electoral fight surrounding the election tainted the political waters for his entire presidency.
Despite the lack of any such dispute in 2016, the American Left has likewise refused to view as legitimate the election of Donald J. Trump. So sure were Democrats of victory they have not been able to come to terms with Trump's victory in the Electoral College. This too has unleashed an especially bitter era in the nation's political climate.
Pennsylvania, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, put Donald Trump in the oval office. Among those looking to change that result in 2020 is Gov. Tom Wolf who apparently believes the voting systems used by Pennsylvania's 67 counties somehow contributed to Hillary Clinton's defeat.
In the aftermath of the 2000 Florida debacle, voting systems with a paper component were blamed for the confusion and what were viewed as more dependable electronic systems were put into place across the nation. Now, having lost what they thought was a sure bet election, Democrats and their allies in the mainstream news media have deemed such electronic systems as undependable and are demanding new systems with a paper component.
Gov. Wolf has therefore mandated that all Pennsylvania counties have in place for this year's elections voting systems with a paper component. He has been heavy-handed in forcing counties to comply. He went so far as to threaten to not count Dauphin County's votes if county commissioners didn't replace a perfectly secure, well-functioning system.
Not only is this costing the taxpayers of Pennsylvania hundreds of millions of dollars, but problems with the new voting systems have already developed. Several counties switched to new systems for last November's elections. In York County problems resulted in long lines, a likely undercount, and weeks of confusion as officials determined what went wrong and how to fix it.
Three counties, including Philadelphia, contested in court the certification of one system which resulted in a significant undercount in a judicial race. The manufacturer of the system has "accepted responsibility" for the problems, yet the Wolf Administration is defending the system which is scheduled to be used by 17% of Pennsylvania's registered voters in next year's election.
Despite no evidence that hacking of the voting systems then in place contributed to a faulty count in the 2016 presidential election in Pennsylvania, voters in most counties will find new machines when they arrive at the polls for the April primary and of course in November.
Pause and think about that for a moment. Serious operational problems occurred in 2019 in the few counties that deployed new systems in a low-turn-out election year. In 2020 — the highest turnout year in the four-year cycle —new machines will be in operation statewide. The opportunity for malfunction, confusion — and yes even fraud — is magnified.
Counties must train poll workers on how to operate the new machines. Voters, especially older voters or those with visual impairment, will be forced to deal with new technology. This will slow down the voting process and trigger even longer lines for voters some of whom will forego their right to vote and opt to not wait to cast a ballot.
All of this will lead to a slow count on election night — if in fact the count is completed on election night. And therein lays the possibility of Pennsylvania turning into a national embarrassment. If the problems that occurred with just a few counties deploying new systems in 2019 occur in the many counties with new systems in 2020 it could take days or weeks to determine who will get Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes.
And if the election hinges on those electoral votes, the eyes of nation and the world will be on Pennsylvania.
Lowman S. Henry is chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research in Harrisburg and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org