WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — There's a new addition to the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections — not more staff, but a machine that elections officials say will speed up their processes. Last week, the Luzerne County Council approved the purchase of a new ballot sorting system, helping the bureau handle mail-in ballots.
"The system we're looking at processes 18,000 ballots per hour. It doesn't actually count the votes; it will simply give the voters credit in our voter database. That's the process that we would've done manually in the past. It would take us days, sometimes weeks, to complete that process because we would have to do it by hand with a scanner that you would see in a store. Something like this would really spend up that process tremendously for us," said Beth McBride, Luzerne County deputy election director.
The Agilis Ballot Sorting System is manufactured by Arizona-based company Runbeck Election Services, but the device is already in use here in Pennsylvania. The company website says Dauphin County, PA is one of 19 counties and government entities to use the system.
Elections officials say a state grant will cover the cost of the $315,000 machine, plus the cost of the annual $35,000 licensing fee and five-year service agreement.
"Luzerne County will be receiving a little over $1 million from the Election Integrity Grant. It was set forth by Act 88 of 2022 by the Pennsylvania State Legislature. The purpose is for us to be able to make our processes a little bit more efficient for election day and count ballots a little bit quicker," McBride said.
The state Department of Community and Economic Development says the grant money can also be used to print ballots, train elections officials, and help cover voting registration costs, but the money comes with some guidelines.
"One of the stipulations of accepting the grant money is we have to count all the votes and not stop until they're all counted. Having this machine is the only way that we would be able to complete that process," McBride said.
We reached out to Runbeck Election Services for comment on this story and to learn more about their machines. They've agreed to an interview. We hope to bring you more on the newly purchased device.