Philadelphia election officials reconsider $29M contract for new voting machines after city reveals lobbying activity

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia’s $29 million purchase of new voting machines is under reconsideration, after the city controller found that the company that supplied them failed to disclose lobbying activity on its bid. 

Now, the Board of Elections will hold a special meeting on Thursday to decide whether or not to void the contract.

Philadelphia requires contractors to disclose political activity when they bid, but the law has a two-pronged approach to addressing violations. 

If the city finds that a bidder fails to disclose lobbying before the contract is awarded, the bidder is disqualified. But if it finds out afterward, it has the option to void the contract.

The city is currently in that predicament with its voting machine supplier, Election Systems & Software, or ES&S. Its contract for 3,200 electronic voting machines got extra scrutiny, as activists urged for hand-marked ballots.

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City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart found it had hired two local lobbying firms while it was bidding, but ES&S failed to check the box on the bid form. 

An ES&S spokeswoman said the omission was inadvertent, and as soon as it was alerted, it took every measure to correct the matter. She also noted the company did disclose its lobbying to the Board of Ethics.

In a letter to the Board of Elections, the city solicitor said the company has agreed to pay a 10 percent penalty for the violation, which would save the city $3 million. 

In a separate letter, the procurement commissioner warns voiding the contract would make it impossible to have new machines by the November election, and it would risk failing to comply with the state’s order to have paper ballots in place for the 2020 presidential primary.

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