Voters in York County could find themselves using paper ballots in May's primary election.

That's after a Commonwealth Court judge ruled yesterday that Westmoreland County cannot buy federally mandated electronic voting machines until voters approve the change.

The decision means that York and other counties requiredto buy new machines might need to hold a referendum to change the way voters cast their ballots.

There's not enough time before the May primary to do that, according to county Solicitor Mike Flannelly.

More than half of Pennsylvania counties need to buy new machines to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, a law put into place after the voting problems in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

"The best-case scenario is that the federal government delays the implementation of (the act)," Flannelly said. "Counties across Pennsylvania and probably across the country have been asking for that kind of relief and it hasn't been forthcoming."

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini agreed yesterday with several Westmoreland County residents, who had argued in court that the county couldn't buy the machines unless there was a referendum on changing the way voters cast their ballots.

Pending a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court, the decision means that voters in the county will likely use paper ballots for the May primary. The decision is binding on all counties needing new machines, Flannelly said.


But York County officials aren't yet sure if using even paper ballots will put the county in compliance with the Help America Vote Act.

Flannelly said the Pennsylvania Department of State told counties a referendum wouldn't be required.

York County plans to spend between $3 million and $4 million on new electronic voting machines to replace the current lever machines, John Scott, the county director of elections, has said.

Assuming the new machines meet federal requirements, the county would be reimbursed almost $1.8 million by the federal government through the state.

"We're going to have to sort through this," Flannelly said. "Up 'til now, our assumption was that we would buy electronic machines with HAVA fund reimbursement. This decision adds another complicating wrinkle to this problem."

-- Reach Carl Lindquist at 505-5432 or