The county commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to outsource to a Harrisburg-based company the printing and mailing of absentee and mail-in ballots for the upcoming general election.
The commissioners approved a contract with David A. Smith Printing since the county expects to receive a high volume of absentee and mail-in ballot requests. The action was sought after the county’s voter registration office experienced difficulties handling the large quantity of primary election ballots received in May.
Michael Anderson, Chief Clerk, Voter Registration, said his department worked a lot of hours to process the 15,500 ballots that were received during the primary election, and noted that the number of absentee and mail-in ballot requests for the general election is expected to reach between 30,000 to 35,000.
“One of the things we looked at after the primary was the ability to keep this (ballot process) in-house,” Anderson told the commissioners. “One of the things we found is that we worked a lot of hours and had to bring a lot of people in at the last minute just to accomplish the mailing and to get the absentee ballots out on time.”
Anderson further explained that the processing of received votes will keep his staff busy, which will hinder the department from having enough time to get ballots stuffed into envelopes and mailed to registered voters in an expedient manner.
Based on a recommendation from chief clerk/county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth, Anderson visited Smith Printing, a Harrisburg company that has prior experience in printing and mailing voter ballots.
“We talked with them to see what they can do for us,” Anderson said, “and I also toured the facility and talked to Dauphin County elections director Jerry Feaser, who had used that company in the primary.”
Anderson said Smith Printing will print the ballots, envelopes, and instructional sheets and then perform fulfillment, meaning they will stuff the envelopes with ballots from the daily records sent to them from the Lebanon County Voter Registration office. Prior to mailing out the ballots, Lebanon County’s Voter Registration office will receive a proof to ensure accuracy.
“As much as I would love to be able to keep it here, it is just not feasible, there is just not enough hours in the day in a Presidential election to keep it locally,” Anderson said. “It was very important for us to pick someone who has experience with this and did it well. Other counties went this route (in previous elections) and had issues while Dauphin County had none, and that was very important to me.”
In asking for approval of the contract, Anderson noted that several other counties, including Berks, Dauphin, Lycoming, and Union, will be using Smith for this upcoming election.
During discussion, the county commissioners had a number of questions and concerns about approving the request.
Chairman Bob Phillips said he was concerned about outsourcing the work to a non-Lebanon County business and wanted assurances that the department would seek local vendors to process ballots after 2020 since the contract with Smith Printing expires at the end of this year.
“My initial reaction, when I saw they were a Harrisburg-based printer, was that we need to use local printers if they are available and can do the quality of work,” Phillips said. “So, you are agreeing that, at some point after this election, that you will be revisiting it and look at local printers so we can get someone on board who we can use locally.”
Phillips added that he is concerned about the volume of votes the company will handle given that several others will be using Smith Printing in the fall.
“They have a very good plan in place,” Anderson said. “They used 1.5 shifts during the primary and plan to go to two shifts. They tell us that they will be able to handle the load. They said that after we send them the files, that they will be able to print and take to the mail the same day, which is much quicker than what we were able to do in the primary.”
Phillips said he would vote to approve the contract since Smith Printing was vetted and has a track record of success.
Commissioner Bill Ames said he was apprehensive about outsourcing work outside of the county voter registration office.
“My colleagues and I get questions all the time about the validity and the safety of our elections,” Ames said. “I am always proud, and am confident to say, that I see the sausage being made here and I trust and value the folks who work in the voter department. As is true with any process, the more you let it go and put it into the hands of others, the more concern you have to have about how legitimately it is being handled.”
Ames added that having witnessed the difficulties with the primary election, that something had to be done and noted his concerns have been addressed because there will be a validation process.
“Personally, I don’t think it is ideal but we’re being forced to do this mail-in ballot from upstairs,” Ames said. “So we have to accommodate that.”
In a separate, but related action, the county commissioners approved under a separate motion to give Smith Printing permission to also print the poll books for the general election.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during previous election cycles. Ames Home Services is a current advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.