An update on election voting and a decision on how to handle mail-in ballots received after Election Day highlighted Thursday’s Lebanon County Commissioners meeting.
The county’s election board, which consists of the three county commissioners, voted to follow state-recommended guidelines pertaining to mail-in ballots received after the 8 p.m. deadline on Election Day – especially in light of a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign to temporarily stop counting those votes over lack of “transparency.”
The Department of State guidelines advise local election bureaus to hold those ballots until a court decision is issued on the lawsuit, according to Michael Anderson, Director/Chief Clerk, Bureau of Elections/Voter Registration. “The lawsuit seeks to overturn the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court’s decision in September to allow mail-in ballots to be received and counted for three days after Election Day on Nov. 3.
“The guidance is for us to hold them, don’t pre-canvas, canvas or count them, to just hold them and keep them segregated,” Anderson said. “I recommend that we adhere by that, to hold them, segregate them and do the extra work they want us to do on how they came in and when they came in, which my office will do.”
As of Thursday morning’s meeting, 46 mail-in ballots had been received and the passed motion included any other ballots received by mail at the election’s office on Thursday or Friday.
Anderson asked the board if he could compare the names on the outside of the 46 mail-in ballots against the nearly 1,500 provisional ballots that have been filed by individuals, some of whom were afraid their mail-in ballots would not be received by Friday, Nov. 6 and who decided to file a provisional ballot instead.
“I’d like not to hold up our provisional ballot process because right now all we’re doing is holding all of those that were issued by a provisional that says they never received their mail because I have to wait until all mail ballots are processed (before tallying provisional ballots),” Anderson said. “I can’t process them, but I can at least see the names and move from there.”
Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz asked Anderson whether the provisional ballot would be counted or the mail-in that came in after the Nov. 3 deadline.
“The process has always been the mail-in is always taken over the provisional,” Anderson said. “I think that is something we’ll all have to discuss later. I don’t need that decision made now, I just don’t want to break any rules if the board is saying to just collect them, put them in a safe location and don’t canvas them. I was just trying to figure out how to process these 1,500 provisional ballots faster.”
Anderson added this would allow voters to know if their vote actually counts as well as speed up the process of counting them and lessening some of the anticipated workload once provisional ballots are counted.
Commissioner Bob Phillips said he was uncomfortable amending his original motion to hold all ballots but deferred to county solicitor Dave Warner for his legal opinion.
“I understand the practical nature of what Mike is suggesting and I would say under normal circumstances that’s what I would do as well,” Warner said. “But given the nature of litigation here – even though it will potentially cost us more work, basically, and time later if court decisions are made in various ways – I think that is what we have to do at this time: just follow the motion that was already made, effectively.”
Based on the Department of State’s guidance and Warner’s recommendation, the board voted unanimously not to compare names on the mail-in ballots against those who have filed provisional ballots.
Concerning the 300 uncounted military and overseas ballots received by his office, Anderson requested a public meeting on Friday, Nov. 6 at 9 a.m. with the elections board so that those ballots, which can’t be scanned, can be opened, prepped for scanning and then scan, a process that was done during the Primary Election in May.
While commissioners Ames and Phillips agreed to meet at that time, Litz said she hadn’t been pre-notified and said she would have to check or schedule for her availability. The election board agreed to convene at 9 a.m. Friday and complete that process, if Litz is available, or publicly reschedule the meeting for a time later that same day.
“If you recall, we used the ballot marking device, my staff went through them, made the ballot into a scannable ballot, and presented both ballots to the board to approve. If approved, we then scanned them,” Anderson said. “One of the things I am requesting, to save time, is to do some of that work tomorrow… If the board so chooses, we can wait and do that during our Computation Meeting, but keep in mind we have 1,500 provisional ballots to go through and all of the other activities, like write-ins to do next week at that meeting.”
Anderson noted that military ballots can be received until Tuesday, Nov. 10 and added that any received after Friday’s meeting would still be counted during the Computation Meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12.
Anderson told the commissioners that only 15 to 20 ballots could not be scanned, and called it an amazingly low number considering that over 22,000-plus ballots were processed from Lebanon County voters over the previous two days.
Commissioner William Ames, who also chairs the county’s election board, praised on behalf of the commissioners Anderson and his staff for the work they did to ensure that the election in Lebanon County went smoothly.
“We’ve already given praise but I want to continue to do that not just for Michael but his entire staff and the league of volunteers, watching them over the course of this election, Election Day and yesterday, performance and the job was outstanding, and we certainly want to thank you for that, Michael,” Ames said.
Anderson thanked the commissioners for their kind words and praised all the people who he said “made the process come together very well.”
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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.