Officials of 18 Pennsylvania counties who accepted gifts, trips or meals from companies competing to sell or lease new voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections apparently didn’t break any state law.
Nevertheless, state residents — from the counties in question or from any of the commonwealth’s other 49 counties that include Fayette — who are unhappy, troubled or downright angry in the wake of the “freebies grab” are correct in questioning the officials’ motivation, attitude and conduct.
Legal or not, the officials never should have accepted anything that might be construed later, rightly or wrongly, as having “bought” the officials’ support for a certain company’s product.
Considering all of the controversy that has been swirling around this nation’s elections since 2016, it is hard to imagine how the 18 counties’ officials would not have recognized the importance of avoiding anything that might have raised questions about the eventual decisions with which they were being charged.
The words “shortsighted” and “stupid” come to mind in connection with some of what has transpired over the months and years in which the voting machines issue has been a topic. Beyond that, many people of this state must be wondering whether they’ve seen the last of what some people are no doubt describing as sleazy business dealings.
The intent behind purchasing new machines is having devices that offer voter-auditable paper backups.
The officials of the 18 counties should have balked at going elsewhere — including taking long trips — to inspect the qualifying voting machines that are available. Vendors should have visited the counties individually or in groups instead.
And even if visiting a company or companies was deemed to be the better option for examining and witnessing certain machines’ features and operation, all officials should have rejected, rather than some accepting, the expenses-paid travel, wine festival attendance, private distillery tours, dinners at high-end restaurants, amusement park visits and other freebies that were made available to them.
Perks like that are fairly commonplace in some businesses’ dealings with one another. However, when public servants paid with public funds are spending public money, there must be special attention not to make such important shopping seem like an exercise in self-interest.
But such an unfortunate perception can be garnered from the 18 counties in question — whose officials should have known better.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has rightly criticized the freebie-takers. Observing that “anyone who took them … could be swayed (in their purchase decisions) by the perks,” he went on to say that “I want counties to make their decisions based on the best interests of voters and not on any other factors.”
Counties whose officials succumbed to the “perks temptation” were Cambria, Clearfield, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Cameron, Clinton, Delaware, Elk, Forest, Lycoming, Luzerne, Northumberland, Potter, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland and York.
Overall, new voting machines across Pennsylvania are expected to cost more than $125 million. It’s no wonder that vendors are going out of their way to try to court the potential customers.
But DePasquale was right that no public official should accept what he described as “this nonsense.”
Those officials who did should be red-faced when facing their constituents and taxpayers.