By Mike Dunn

 

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke has put the brakes on plans by elections officials to buy new voting machines.

Clarke says the money is better spent on aging police and fire stations.

“To suggest that we appropriate $22 million for machines that in most people’s minds clearly do not need to be replaced makes no sense to most of us,” Clarke said.  “So we thought that until we get a further explanation — once the (election) commissioners feel they are comfortable having that discussion with us — then at that time we will make those decisions.”

Clarke says questions went unanswered because the city commissioners, who run elections in the city, did not themselves testify to Council — because they are currently seeking reelection, and their duties are now handled by judges.

“At the time of presentation (to Council) of the city commissioners, there was not a reasonable response as to why machines that are less than ten years old need to be replaced,” Clarke says.

So, the $22 million allocation will get bumped to the next fiscal year.

“We thought it was more prudent to extend that capital investment until next year, so we can get a further explanation as to whether this $22 million makes sense,” Clarke tells KYW Newsradio.

City commissioner Al Schmidt, who sought the new machines, says he is not upset with Clarke’s decision.

“The City Council president has to balance a number of responsibilities and knows what’s best for the city, and the challenges that it faces at any given time. So I’m certainly okay with this postponement,” Schmidt says.

Clarke says he hopes the delay can allow the Nutter administration to speed up its replacements or improvements to decrepit police and fire stations.

“We need to focus on that. This notion that we have to analyze everything across the city, when there’s clearly a need in a couple of these station — we need to get that done now,” he said.

Clarke is particularly concerned about the state of the 22nd District police station, which is in the Fifth Councilmanic District, which Clarke represents.

“(The officers) not having an opportunity that should be befitting of our first responders needs to be responded to in a reasonable way, as opposed to acquiring $22 million worth of voting machines,” Clarke said.

Commissioner Schmidt had hoped the new voting machines would go into service in the spring of 2017, when a dearth of high-profile races would likely lead to a low turnout.  Instead, he says, this will likely mean first testing in the primary of 2018.

“This is just a matter of identifying what the next best window is, rather than delaying it four years, or whatever it would be, down the line. And we’re happy to work with Council to find the right time,” Schmidt says.

The mayor’s chief information officer, Adel Abeid, had earlier testified to Council that the current voting machines are past their useful life and starting to fail.