A late Friday afternoon meeting to view questioned ballots appears to have once and for all settled the near-dead heat between Lebanon City Council candidates Amy Keller (D) and Andrew Zidik (R).
While the results remain unofficial until certified by the county’s Election Board later today, Keller appears to be the winner by three votes.
Zidik looked like a 10 vote winner on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 5, but a subsequent count of ballots that, for one reason or another, could not be scanned at individual polling places gave Keller a three vote edge.
Zidik conceded publicly in a Nov. 13 Facebook post, but later that day removed his concession from Facebook and hinted at a request for a formal recount.
Late last week, both candidates filed Right-To-Know Law requests to view the questioned ballots. The parties and their representatives convened at the Municipal Building on Friday, Nov. 15, at 3:30 p.m., where they were allowed to view the 29 suspect ballots cast in the city.
Zidik was accompanied by Lebanon County Republican Committee Chairman Casey Long and Philadelphia lawyer Shohin Vance. Keller was accompanied by her husband, Kevin.
County Director of Elections Michael Anderson spread the ballots on the massive wooden table in the County Commissioners’ meeting room, and the candidates and their representatives were allowed to view and photograph, but not touch, them.
Neither candidate commented at the end of Friday’s meeting, but Zidik re-conceded in a Facebook post on Saturday morning, Nov. 16, which said, in part, “Amy Keller is up by three votes. There were two ballots that In my opinion could have been reviewed but I personally would not want to discredit a voters vote based on a technicality. I would not want to win like that.”
It is assumed that the Election Board will certify the result as official later today.
Adjustments considered to new election equipment
The Tuesday, Nov. 5 municipal election was the first test of Lebanon County’s new paper-backed balloting system.
“This was a mandate by the governor,” explained Director of Voter Registration Michael Anderson in a Monday interview. “Have a paper backup, so if something happens to the [electronic only] voting machines, ballots aren’t lost.”
Anderson said that the combination of pure paper ballots and paper printouts from electronic voting machines, both of which were counted by electronic scanners, worked well, but not perfectly.
The biggest problem was in feeding hand-filled paper ballots into the scanners stationed at each of the county’s 60 polling places.
Some paper ballots, primarily absentee ballots, could not be scanned on the spot for a variety of reasons such as “over-votes,” creases and folds over ballot marks, and extraneous marks. An “over-vote” occurs when someone votes for more than the maximum allowed number for a particular race.
“We went to polling place scanners because we wanted to make sure that voters could correct that kind of error on the spot,” Anderson explained. “If the scanner flagged an error, we could tell the voters immediately and give them a chance to fix it. We couldn’t do that with absentee ballots because the voter isn’t present [when the error is discovered].”
Anderson and his staff are already looking at ways to avoid scanning problems, and will be conferring with the scanners’ manufacturer and with the company that prints ballots.
There were also Election Day complaints that there weren’t enough voting machines. Some voters at certain polling places said that they felt pressured to cast a paper ballot when they preferred a machine. Anderson said that the ratio of paper stations to machines is being looked at, and may be adjusted in the future, but cost is a factor.
“The total cost of each machine is roughly $5,000, so the county has to keep that in mind.” Plus, like it or not, voters do not have the right to choose “paper or machine” under Pennsylvania law. The county can mandate any method that is approved by the state.
Finally, Anderson was aware of some privacy complaints. Some voters thought their ballots could be viewed as they waited in line for the scanners. Anderson agreed, but said that folders were available to voters, if requested, to conceal their ballots while they waited. He said that this option will be better publicized to poll workers and voters in the future.
And, a recent change in Pennsylvania election law that will allow anyone to vote by absentee ballot without a reason—”no excuse absentee ballots”—will be in effect for the presidential election, which may reduce scanner demands at individual polling places if they end up being counted centrally at the Municipal Building.
Anderson sees the Nov. 5 municipal election as a sort of dress rehearsal for the 2020 presidential election, where turnout will likely be much higher. And, the recently declared special election on Jan. 14, 2020 to fill the vacant 48th District state senatorial slot gives him an unexpected second chance to work out kinks.
Read Our Previous Election Systems Coverage…
Lebanon County meets state deadline to select new voting system (February 12)
New polling places for May 21 primary, last election before new voting machines (May 6)
Regardless of state funding, Lebanon County’s new voting machines will be ready for November (July 11)
County Commissioners approve USB backup drives for new voting machines (August 3)
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